To-Do List Makeover

S. J. Scott

This book doesn’t have new techniques. It’s rather a mixture of several ideas from other places. Its great accomplishment is its simple and actionable system that actually works. I absolutely like this system, and it’s what I’m using right now. It has helped me focus on what’s important instead of busywork masqueraded as urgent tasks.

My rating: 4/5 · I really liked it
5 min · April 29, 2016 · Amazon

My Notes

The key to make this system work is to accept that:

  • Knowing how to identify what’s important is crucial. These are usually tasks with impending deadlines or tasks that has great impact to your goals.
  • There are different types of tasks.
  • Small tasks with clear completion criteria are easier to complete and builds momentum.
  • Creating tasks thinking on how to achieve the end result are better.
  • Tasks are not life or death activities.
  • Flexibility is as important as consistency. It’s important to leave time for unexpected situations.
  • Task management is the first step. Actually doing the work is more important than having a perfect system.

Lists

Tasks should be added into different lists according to their nature:

  • Idea Capture List: A central place where you can write every idea you come up with, so you don’t forget anything.
  • Project Lists: Whenever something requires two or more tasks, it belongs to a project.
  • Weekly Task List: Tasks you decide to do on a given day and/or time of the current week.
  • Most Important Tasks: List of three tasks that you think generates the biggest impact on your life.

Idea Capture List

Your primary way to capture all your ideas, allowing you to let go of them and keep focus on the task at hand.

Whenever you come up with an idea, write it to the Idea Capture List.

Develop the habit of writing everything that you think of, even you find it dumb.

Ideas can be vague, unspecific, or unachievable. You’ll process ideas every week.

Project Lists

Once a week look at all your ideas from the Idea Capture List and decide if you want to work on some this week.

Convert each idea into a Project List. Be precise in specifying the end result of the project.

Brainstorm the idea and break it into small actionable tasks.

Only include tasks with a near deadline or critical for the success of the project. Prioritize them.

To create good tasks, start with the desired result and work backwards. Decide what steps you need to complete to achieve that result.

Don’t create tasks just for the sake of completing them.

Characteristics of good tasks:

  • Has a clear reason to exists. It should relate to a long term goal.
  • Includes a specific action.
  • Has a measurable outcome.
  • Has a defined beginning and ending.
  • Can be completed in a single time block.
  • Includes a rough estimate (you’ll improve over time if you’re consistent).

Weekly Task List

Each week create a new Weekly Task List.

Divide your day into activities for the morning and activities for the afternoon. If you work on weekends, consider those days.

For each block (or hour) schedule:

  • Exercise, errands, time with family, house chores, and cooking.
  • Routine tasks to reinforce habits.
  • Appointments, meetings and personal obligations.
  • Important tasks from your project lists. Don’t fill your day with tasks, add only the most important ones.
  • Leave space for unplanned activities.

Putting all your activities into one list helps you have a clear idea of how you are going to spend your time.

Schedule more difficult tasks for when you are most productive.

It should be a guideline to keep you on track for completing goals and getting you closer to where you want to be.

This is the list you look at before committing to something new this week.

Most Important Tasks (MITs)

A list of three specific actions that will have the biggest benefit for you.

This list works best if you pick two tasks from a project and one task from a habit you want to create.

Try to make these items the first thing you do each day. That way you can reduce the risk of not finishing due to the unpredictability of life.

Choose today’s MITs from the Weekly Task List.

Once you finish your MITs of the day, you can keep going over the Weekly Task List or Project Lists.

Write your MITs at the end of the previous day or first thing in the morning.

Doing the Work

Knowing which tasks to do is important, but actually doing it is even more important.

Rate each task with an energy level. Low energy tasks might be taking a vitamin. High energy tasks might be exercising or writing an article for an hour.

Make sure your Project Lists include low energy tasks.

As your motivation, willpower and energy fluctuates through the day, pick tasks that match your current levels.

The “Pomodoro Technique” helps to manage energy levels via time blocking.

When having difficulties with a task, think on why are you afraid of it. Possible reasons are uncertainty, probability of failing, difficulty, or frustration.

Some strategies to overcome fears are removing distractions, writing down what’s stopping you, creating a plan for each obstacle, or thinking on the rewards.

The most simple strategy is to define a task so easy that you can just do it. Finishing it will build momentum and start motivating you.

The Weekly Ritual

Schedule one hour on Sunday afternoons to reflect upon your current week and plan the next one.

Congratulate yourself for your accomplished tasks of the current week.

Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What are my personal obligations? Sometimes it’s better to reduce the output if you have too many personal obligations.
  • What are my priority projects? Focusing on a handful of projects each week helps to finish them.
  • How much time do I have? Be true to yourself.

Then follow these steps:

  • Process the Idea Capture List. If it takes two minutes, do it now. If it’s an idea you want to tackle this week, write a Project List for it.
  • Create the Weekly Task List for the current week.

The Daily Ritual

At the beginning of every day, perform this ritual:

  • Check your appointments and meetings.
  • Pick from your weekly list the three MITs for today, and start working.
  • Commit to finishing your MITs. Focus on completing small easy tasks to build up motivation.
  • Once you finish your MITs, keep working from your Weekly Task List or from your Project Lists.
  • Make hard decisions. If you a task is more than three days old, either do it immediately, schedule a date, or delete it.
  • Write down what’s going through your head if you feel stuck.
  • Remember to be flexible, tasks are not life-or-death. Practice continuous improvement.