Spencer Carli

The Evolution of my Todo List

September 17, 2014

Everyone has a todo list. Whether you write it down, keep it in your head, use an online tool… we’ve all got one somewhere. I’m a huge fan of my Todo list. I make one every night for the next day. It helps me stay accountable and I can’t forget about the things I have to do. My todo list has gone through a variety of iterations until I’ve found one that works. Here are few… Each one has their merits and their drawbacks.

##BAN (Big Ass Notebook) Todo List

Having one big notebook was nice for a time - I always knew where things were when I wanted to find something. No digging through Google Drive, I didn’t have a bunch of places I kept notes, it was all packaged into one. Everything from my todo lists, notes, thoughts, were all in one big 3 subject notebook. But it did have its drawbacks. The thing was heavy and cumbersome. I didn’t want to bring it with me anywhere. It was also hard to organize - with so much going on in it I would often lose my daily todo list and most certainly my weekly todo list.

##Tech Todo List

I’ve tried a variety of tech to manage my todo list, mostly Todoist. So what I’m about to say applies mostly to their free version. Todoist was great for recurring tasks, I could say that I want to read 30 minutes a day and it would add that task to my todo list each and every day - no effort on my part. It was also nice that it was in my browser and my phone. I could access it anywhere. I could also categorize things between my work and personal tasks. It wasn’t perfect though. After I would complete a task it would disappear from my view. So whenever I would look back at my todo list I would only see what I had left to do, not what I’ve already accomplished. Psychological blow. It was also easy to forget about, just like 90% of the apps on my phone. And that awesome and easy to set, recurring task? Well it was so easy to set that I would forget it was there. I would set it up once and quickly forget about it, the task got lost in the sea of other things todo.

Memorize Todo List

I suck at a remembering to do things. This lasted about as long as it took me to open up my computer. But maybe it works for you, just don’t forget about the things you’ve already accomplished. Don’t only focus on what you’ve got left to do.

The knockoff moleskine

This is where I’m currently at. I’ve got one small, robust journal that goes with me everywhere. It’s lightweight, compact and has a faux-leather cover. It serves 3 purposes and that’s it. It’s my weekly todo list. Each week I sit down, review what I accomplished and write down what I have to do. This goes into a blog post (Read my accountability blog posts) and my journal based todo list. It’s also my daily todo list. Each night I sit down for 5 minutes, consult my weekly todo list and write down what I need to do the next day. Each task has a big circle next to it to be checked when it’s completed. The last thing my journal serves as is a place to take small notes. If there’s something I want to look into or research more, it goes here. Not the research itself. Just a note that I want to do that.

Why write it down?

It takes effort to write it down. To me, that effort is somewhat of a start to the task. I’ve committed to writing it down, so I’m committed to getting it done. I also see what I’ve already done. This is purely psychological for me, I get to see what I’ve already done today and I see that I’m making progress instead of just mindlessly checking things off to never be considered again. I’m getting things done. It’s also cool to look back over a todo list weeks/months later and to see what I was working on and how it relates to today.

They Evolve

As you can see, my todo list has gone through a few changes. And I don’t see that stopping. I keep trying to improve my existing todo list. Here are 3 things I’ve changed about it recently.

  • Cutoff line - Once I’m done planning my day I’ll draw a thick black line after my tasks for today. I’m a person that feels like I have to get more done if I finish my tasks early - even if it’s just BS work. I’m working on it and this is one solution I’ve found that has helped.

  • Categorizing Tasks - This one is really new to me but I love it so far. Once my tasks are listed out I’ll go through them and add them into categories. Each category (1, 2, 3, …) can have 3 tasks in it. No more. This allows me to prioritize things and I know that before I can move onto the next (easier) tasks, I have to finish this category. Separating them is often arbitrary but it helps me a lot.

  • Break Big Tasks Down - I do a lot of contracting work where I’m paid by the hour. So let’s say I want to hit 5 hours of billable work today. I struggled watching my progress when I just had one big 5 hour chunk on my todo list. I’ve since broken it down into chunks (5 x 1 hour contracting). Stupid simple but big psychological win. I can watch my progress and categorize each task differently. Breaking this big chunk up into smaller ones.

How can I Improve?

As you can see, my todo list constantly changes. Do you have any tips on how I can improve my todo list (I love little psychological wins)? How do you manage your tasks?