Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Start With a Master Task List

The words 'To Do' spelled out in Scrabble tiles over a post it note

I don’t know how many people I’ve encountered who are overwhemled by their task lists. With many of them, those task lists go on for several pages.

With that much to do, you’d think those folks would be rushing to put a dent in their lists. That’s often not the case.

Far too many people are paralyzed by the sheer amount of what they need to do. And, often, what they think they need to do. They don’t know where to start. Looking at their task lists causes them to lose any motivation to continue or even just get underway.

The problem, besides having too much on their lists, is that their approach to task management is wrong. It’s ineffective. It’s the cause of their headaches.

Instead, they need to start with a master task list.

Master Task List?

As you’ve probably guessed, that’s a master list of everything you need to do. The master task list will be long. But it’s your starting point.

Some of you who have long task lists might be saying I already have a master list. Well, you do and you don’t. You have a list of tasks, but you need to be selective about them. Remember what I said earlier about putting everything you need to do on your master list? Well, that’s the key to creating an effective an effective master task list.

Take a close look at your task list and pare it down. Remove any Someday/Never tasks — the ones you hope to get to but probably never will. That should send more than a few items from your list into the dustbin. And doing that should reduce your stress a bit.

Breaking It Down

So you have a master task list. Now what? Create a smaller list, consisting of the tasks you need to do during the current week. I generally advise people to create a list for five days. You can go to seven if you need to.

Then, allocate three or four tasks for each day in the week. After that, get to work.

If you finish your tasks for the day, don’t add more to the day’s list. Your goal is to do the work and then step back. Your goal isn’t to jump on the productivity treadmill and do work because you have time to do work. Or, worse, to do work for the sake of doing work. That’s not what productivity is about.

Having a master task list, and then breaking it into manageable chunks, can be an effective way to deal with your tasks. No matter how many or few you have. The key is thinking and acting in increments, and not doing marathons of work.

That’s how you’ll become productive. That’s how you’ll reach done.

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