task list

How To Fix Your Broken Task List

I have a confession to make … I’m forgetful. Incredibly forgetful, in fact, and it’s a real problem for me. Still, the people I work with are astounded that nothing ever falls between the cracks. It’s my task list that’s doing the heavy lifting though, and I’m almost religious about it. My whole day is thoughtfully driven by it.

I’ve shown people how I organize my work, and it usually inspires them to try it for themselves, especially when I explain how little overhead it costs me to do so. Inevitably though, it falls over for them, and I’ve come to understand why. So if you’re looking to reinvent, revive, or maybe even use a task list for the first time, this post is for you.

I looked it up a moment ago. Would you believe I’ve completed 30,097 tasks since I started using Todoist? I was always fascinated when they sent a report once a year to show me how I was using their product. They discontinued providing those reports, but here’s one interesting slide from 2021.

That’s right. I complete nearly 100 tasks a week and still am, I suspect. Posting this was a task, and I use it for both my personal life and professionally. If I’m on the go and a task comes to mind, I create it on my phone. From my computer, I use a Chrome extension, but I’m not here to sell you on Todoist. Your way might be stickies. Or smoke signals. Whatever it is, these tips will apply.

  • Tasks should start with a verb. This helps to drive toward something. Admittedly, not all tasks are about action so verbs like “Consider” or “Think through” are appropriate.
  • Forget big. Think small. Each task should take around an hour or less to complete and have a clear beginning and end. This is where people struggle since they often don’t know how to chunk the work. This is a muscle worth developing.
  • Categorize by context. Those small tasks don’t mean a lot on their own. Grouping them by context helps you appreciate what greater good they’re meant to achieve. I also try to complete as many tasks from the same context in a row for efficiency. A project or team is often a good category, but I encourage you to find categories that fit you.
  • Organize all tasks by day. Now I know the one hour activity and what context it belongs. The final step is to know what date I want to complete it. I’ll create tasks for today, tomorrow, or even a month from now. And if the day’s list is too big, I shift less important stuff out. If it’s too small, I’ll bring some of tomorrow’s work in.
  • Do. Meet. Learn. Want to try something more advanced? Expand the task list to include people worth meeting. Or things worth learning. A task list shouldn’t be all about action in my opinion.
  • Recurring tasks are habit starters. I have one on my list that says, “Go for a walk. Be creative.” Doctor’s orders, and I get to decide what I’d like to be creative about. Use it for habits you’re trying to create or things you tend to forget.
  • Start with the easy. I always begin my day with easy tasks. It energizes me for the bigger things later. Your mileage may vary here though so find what works for you.
  • Great for nudging. If I expect someone will forget, I’ll ask them when I should check in next. Create that nudge as a task with the proper due date.
  • Use it to free cognitive load. I stress if I have something in my head that won’t shake loose or I’m worried I’ll forget. In those situations, I quickly add it to my task list with just a few words to give myself permission to put it aside. I have a category specific to these tasks so I can revisit them and give them the proper shape later.

That’s it for today, and I’d love to hear your task list tips in the comments below. And check out this post for other tips for how to maximize your time.

Do you want to get notified when new posts are published? Leave your email below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *