If You’re Afraid of Your To-Do List, It’s Not Working

If you’re afraid to look at your To-Do list, it’s not working.  Your To-Do list should inspire you.

One of the things that happens a lot with To-Do lists is they can get overwhelming.  It’s easy to pile on more things.  Eventually, you’re afraid to even look at your To-Do list.   What once started out as a great list of things to make happen, has now became a laundry list of things that hurts more than it helps.

Worse, it’s easy to spawn a lot of lists that are full of once great intentions, so the problem spreads.

There are multiple ways to hack the problem down to size, but here are the three I use the most:

  1. New Lists.  I create a new list each day and each week.   This gives me a fresh start.  This way I can have a master list (a “list of lists”), or all up project lists, but then carve out a specific list of outcomes and actions for a given segment of time, whether it’s a day, a week, a month, etc.
  2. Prioritizing.   A quick way to make the list more useful is to make sure that priorities float to the top.  By floating your priorities to the top, you can squeeze out the lower priorities, and let them slough off.  I find it’s easier to figure out the few great things to do, than it is to try and figure out all the things not worth doing.  So I use my short-list of priorities (“the vital few” in Covey speak), to help crowd out the lesser things.
  3. Three Wins at the top.   This is by far the most useful method to reshape a To-Do list into something more meaningful, more rewarding, and less intimidating.   Simply add your Three Wins to the top of your To-Do list.

Here is a simple visual that shows adding Three Wins to the top of your To-Do list:


Identify the 3 most important results you want to accomplish today and bubble them to the top of your To Do list.  Prioritize your day against those 3 results you want to achieve, whether it’s incoming requests or you’re making your way through your backlog of things to do on your To-Do list.

You can use this approach to chop any To-Do list down to size and make it more consumable.

This tip on building better To-Do lists is from the book, Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life (Amazon).