Effectively Managing Huge Todo Lists, Part 1
I can only attribute this inspiration on the magical alchemy of a Spanish Rioja, an over-stuffed easy chair and this most fortuitous time of the week – Friday evening
Thirty minutes ago I had no idea I would now be penning the first of two articles on effectively managing large Todo lists. I can only attribute this inspiration on the magical alchemy of a Spanish Rioja, an over-stuffed easy chair and this most fortuitous time of the week – Friday evening. Let’s start with some basics on how to organize a todo list.
Some may regard an overflowing todo list as a complete failure of the protagonist to successfully execute and close the tasks he himself set. But alas, it is not always so. When dealing with larger projects and multiple people, the tasks can stretch into the hundreds. Without the right tools and approach, one can easily suffer from the task list equivalent of “analysis paralysis”. Simply having too many tasks crying out for one’s limited attention can result in excessive task switching and simply feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of this beautiful, though daunting hierarchical task construct. If you feel yourself in this position perhaps these articles can assist. I have broken them down into two parts,
- The big picture task management
- Day to day handling of your task lists
The first of these topics I will deal with today….or at least until my next glass of Rioja lasts. This will deal with some basic elements of how to organize a Todo list, especially long lists.
Big Rocks for Task list management
Let’s take a few topics then to deal with the big picture stuff.
Use the force Someday list
It was the Getting Things Done methodology that started my utilisation of the “Someday”, list. As the name implies, it is a list for tasks that will neither be done today, nor tomorrow, nor any particular date that you can now determine. I use it to hold tasks that are simply not the focus not right now but would like to come back to in the future. When we are dealing with large task lists, any tool that can enable us to remove tasks that are not of interest now is helpful so we can focus on the tasks that are required now. This can help cut down the list substantially. In my experience, I generally work on projects that have short phases, about 3 months long, so tasks that need only be done beyond that can fall under “Someday”.
To prevent tasks simply going into this black hole and be out of sight, out of mind, one does need to review this list periodically. At some point Someday will become today and the task will need to be executed. So, if this approach is used, don’t forget the regular review – let’s say on a monthly basis. This is a useful technique for effective todo lists.
This list is your memory
When your task list grows to some hundreds of items it effectively takes the place of your memory. You no longer need to recall hundreds of tasks that need be done because they are all recorded somewhere, be it in a notebook, software or a myriad of multi-colour post it notes that some day will have a second life at a mate’s wedding. Whatever the future life of the task list, it’s present incarnation is of vital importance – it holds all of the stuff you have to do and may be a vital record of the activities you have completed in the past. So, treat it with some care. In the case where software is used, get your backups in order! The last thing you want is for the file to be corrupted, accidentally deleted or some other mishap to occur. In my case, I use Abstractspoon ToDoList for work activities and fortunately it has a built in Backup feature. I will cover this in the next part, dealing with the practical day to day usage of huge lists.
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the succinct bullet point task will prove to be woefully inadequate in jogging your memory as to what must be done
With huge task lists, especially when utilising the “Someday”, feature it is certainly possible that tasks can loiter for some months before you or anyone else gets around to addressing them. By that time, the succinct bullet point task will prove to be woefully inadequate in jogging your memory as to what must be done. So, you need to keep in mind that you memory is not as good as you would like to think it is and that some elaboration on a short task description is needed. So, I wholeheartedly encourage the use of comments to accompany the task entry. Most task management programs support this and with the help of a background summary of the task, it should then enable some recollection of what is needed.
Develop a compulsion to closure
I think it was Brian Tracy who coined this phrase – Compulsion to closure. As the name implies it is about picking up a task and working on it until it is done and dusted. The intention is to actually close the tasks on that humongous list so that eventually all will be complete and the objective reached. It goes without saying that fewer tasks on a list are easier to manage so by completing and closing the tasks the overall task list will shrink to a manageable size.
Todo List Filter
To make any sense out of very large lists one needs to reduce it down to something that can be quickly reviewed. Previously I mentioned the use of the Someday list to remove some tasks from immediate view. In addition to that some other tools can be used to provide further focus – essentially by filtering the remaining list items. This is primarily a tool for people who utilise software for their task management which readily enables such an approach. Some possibilities for it’s implementation include,
- Not really a filter as such, but more an organizational strategy to group tasks by topic. Each topic can then be reviewed in turn.
- Filter by responsibility, dates, priorities etc.
- Perhaps a relatively newcomer to task lists but quite useful to enable searching for certain keywords.
Whichever form or filtering or hierarchy approach the end result is to end up with a shorter, more manageable list.
Organization of long Todo Lists, Part 1 Summary
So, there you have it. One Big picture task list management article completed and half a bottle of wine less in my fridge which needs to be replenished. Feel free to recommend your favourite vintages! Next time round, I deal with the effective day to day usage of huge lists.