NOV 30, 2023 /

How do you stay on top of your to-do list?

If you’ve got too many things to do today, look for a to-do system that makes life easier, rather than more complicated.

There are a million to-do strategies out there and it seems like everyone swears by a different app, service or ecosystem. The truth is that there isn’t one perfect task management solution.

It’s a matter of figuring out what works best for you and then finding the best tools to help you along the way.

Of course you still need to be open to change. If you’re looking for a new to-do system it’s because your old system isn’t working. If you work flat-out all day but still don’t achieve your most important goals, then you clearly need to re-evaluate your approach to the way you work.

You obviously shouldn’t be looking for high-tech ways to keep making the same mistakes, but at the same time you shouldn’t need to turn your life upside-down to suit your new to-do system. As with any IT system, you want your new to-do system to work with you, not against you.

Most task management solutions incorporate the idea of writing down what needs to be done and then working through the list. If a paper and pen is no longer cutting it, there are plenty of options for digitising that list. Look for solutions close to home before you go searching further afield.

It’s worth checking whether there are useful notes and to-do options built into the software you already use. Most calendar and email clients incorporate some form of task management.

Alternatively, you might keep a simple to-do list as a document or note inside Google Drive, SkyDrive, iCloud, Evernote, Dropbox or whatever other cloud storage/sync service you use.

Finding a to-do solution which fits into your existing workflow, and which you can access whenever you need it, is more likely to get results than forcing yourself to embrace something completely new. That said, avoid using your calendar or inbox as a de facto to-do list. This tends to clutter your view of the world when you’re actually seeking clarity.

If you don’t already have the right to-do tools at your disposal then you’ll need to expand your search, but you should still look for tools which integrate into your existing environment. Try not to lock yourself and your data into a closed ecosystem. Look for solutions with a strong user and developer community, to increase the likelihood of them still being there next week and next year.

If you’re working in a team then you might expand your search to include group to-do lists and project management tools. Even if such tools are useful, it’s probably still handy to have your own personal to-do list – especially if you need to add the occasional personal task like ‘pay the phone bill’.

A good to-do list is more than merely a shopping list to tick off, it’s a fluid document which allows you to easily edit and re-prioritise tasks during the day. With your list in order you know where to focus your attention next, no matter how busy you are. This is a useful coping mechanism for times when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Compiling your to-do list at the start of each week and day makes it easier to quickly shift from one completed task to the next, rather than falling into the habit of slacking off between tasks as you ponder what to do next. A healthy to-do list also gives you a number of alternative things to do if you feel like procrastinating, but can’t afford to get sucked into Facebook and Twitter. Your to-do list also makes it easier to identify little jobs to knock over when you don’t have time to tackle a big job.

One useful trick is to break your to-do list into several lists, making it easier to see what’s important right now while still keeping an eye on the big picture.

Productivity guru David Allen – author of Getting Things Done – recommends keeping three lists: next actions; projects; and someday/maybe. Draw up these lists and straight away your priorities become clearer. If your lists become cluttered over time then you need to re-evaluate whether you’re putting things in the wrong list, or perhaps including items which really belong in your calendar or project notes.

What’s really telling is that David Allen offers a new way of looking at your to-do list, but he doesn’t specify which technologies to use. Whether you keep your lists on a scrap of paper or stashed away in your smartphone is entirely up to you. Technology can help you get on top of your to-do list, but at the end of the day it’s up to you to get things done.

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David Hancock
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.