My ToDo list system
This is not a post about the wonders of the Bullet Journal. Just to get that out of the way so anyone looking for a BuJo discussion isn’t disappointed.
Now that I’m more than five months into my 2016 productivity setup I’d been thinking about writing an update, and a Twitter conversation today motivated me to do a quick post.
Standard caveat: Everyone is different, with different needs, interests, and psychological makeup, so whatever works for you is the best system ever. If anything I do resonates with you, or sounds like something that might work, feel free to ask questions in the comments or just go off and try it yourself.
The hardest part of my productivity system is figuring out a way to make ToDo lists that work for me, which means get me to do the things that are on them. I like lists a lot, but I hate having ToDo items hanging over me. These two feelings are contradictory, so I’m frequently tweaking whatever method I’ve adopted. Right now, what is working best, and has been working for the last few months, is combining four different lists in three different places.
I know it sounds ridiculous. But remember, psychology. We are all shaped by our likes and dislikes. Three lists can be not just more useful but also easier than one list in one place; they are for me because I don’t have to look at everything at one time. If you think about different systems, they basically have you make multiple lists (even the Bullet Journal has daily, future, and monthly lists).
My four lists, three on paper and one on the web:
Do It Tomorrow. This is a web and mobile (iOS and Android) app that is very, very simple. It mimics an open notebook format, and that is all there is to it. Here’s mine for today:
That’s it. That’s all there is. If something doesn’t get crossed off today, it goes on tomorrow’s list. You can’t turn back and look at what you did last week, because when today is over, it’s gone. Anything you pile up on Tomorrow will migrate to the next day if you don’t get it done. So you can put future projects in, but if they’re more than a day or two in the future they will just haunt you (I had one I finally deleted because I didn’t do it for weeks).
Obviously, something this simple is not going to handle long-range planning or complex tasks. It’s also not a place to put brain dumps of things to do because you run out of room in a hurry. But for everyday tasks, it’s great. I leave a tab open on my browser and look at it throughout the day.
Inbox/Capture. This is straight from the GTD system. David Allen argues that if you get something written down, it clears space in your brain, and I and a lot of people agree. So about once a week I start a list in the notebook in my Midori Passport AKA my wallet, and I add to it as I go. Sometimes I make different capture lists, for example right now I’m sorting out the next month or so of research and writing and it involves several different projects, so I have a research/writing list alongside the regular omnibus list. I look at this every day or two and move things onto the DiT list or the next on my list of lists:
Daily Rocks. This is a mashup from Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done system. He has Big Rocks for the week and three Most Important Tasks for the day. I have between two and four Daily Rocks drawn from my inbox/capture list and my DiT lists, things that are bigger than “fill fountain pens” but smaller than “file semester’s course materials”. I write these in my Hobonichi each day. Sometimes I get them all done, sometimes they include something I really don’t want to do and it gets migrated. If it’s migrated it doesn’t come off the other lists until it’s done, but it may be put back in the Q and left off the next day’s Rocks list.
Week in Review/Week to Come. This is mostly from GTD, although I haven’t looked at GTD in a while so I don’t know if it’s exactly the same. On Sunday or Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday if I’m putting it off) I look back at my week in the Hobo, I look at my inbox/capture list, and I make a list (on the Sunday entry in the Hobo) of what I got done in the week and what I didn’t. If I did a WiR/WtC the week before the way I was supposed to, then I use that to figure out the entries. If I didn’t then I just scroll through my diary and see what the week was like (and what was done on the Daily Rocks lists).
You can see squiggles of color on the left edges; those are how I log my time. I don’t account for every single hour, but I try to keep track of work, chores, socializing, and goals. Sunday was a chores-heavy day, Monday was a work-heavy day.
I also started lists in the back of the Hobonichi for research, house stuff, and a couple of other long-term projects, but they’re still in early stages so I don’t count them as part of the system. I only count what is actually being used.
Some of these lists are psychologically easier for me than others. I like the inbox/capture process and I find it easy to add to and to look at. By contrast, I have to force myself to do the week in review/week to come, because I dwell on the things I haven’t done more than the things I have. I like the Daily Rocks, although sometimes choosing the 2-4 items is not that easy, and the DoItTomorrow is easy as well. But everyone’s mileage will vary on what is more or less taxing, more or less intuitive.