A Shorter To-do List

Your to-do list is a subset of your to-do list. Sounds wierd right. That’s how I felt when I read it in an interesting article by Francisco Sáez on FacileThings.

But. It made sense.

Too often in the fiery of things to do, we make a long list simply letting us so overwhelming that we fail to engage and do it. It defeats the purpose of the creating a to-do list in the first place.

This has often been sighted as one of the negatives of using a to-do list. It becomes a procrastination list.

While working without a list cannot be a solution (at least for me), my research led me to read about Mark Forster’s interesting ‘No-list’ systems. It is misnomer and Mark himself agrees to it. But technically by ‘no-list’ he means a shorter list and a really short one.

Thus born my discovery of ‘Short to-do list’ – the keyword being ‘short’. Later I realised that all along I have been trying a variety of different forms on short list in the past.

I have collated an interesting array of such different forms of short to-do list.

9 items list

6 items list

  • The story has become a legend in the productivity world. Ivy Lee and his consultancy to Charles Schwab not only earned him $25,000 (priced at $500,000 as of today), but also legions of fans including big names like James Clear. The reason is obvious why it is listed her. Ivy Lee suggests having not more than 6 items on one’s daily to-do list. But his suggestion to priorize the 6 items is simply unstructured for me.
  • Arriane Serafico has this interesting schema for her 6 items list that solves this problem. She breaks her 6 items as 1-2-3 list: 1 Mission + 2 Big tasks + 3 Others.

5 items list

3 items list

  • Now we come to the 3 list specifically the MIT popularized by Leo Baubauta of ZenHabits. But it has its faults as well.
  • For some reason, few guys didn’t like the word MIT and came up with HIT – High Impact Tasks.
  • Heard of Enough list – the minimalist 3-items to-do list.
  • Getting thing done, the Agile Way creator J.D.Meier offers a more scientific explanation chirstened as ‘Rule of Three’. His entire system to use 3 Daily wins uses the power of 3.

1 Item List

I couldn’t find any system having 1 item to-do list, though James Clear’s suggestion on ‘doing the most important thing’ in the morning comes a bit close.

If you find any such resource on the same, I will add to it.

Few key points here

  • A shorter list doesn’t mean who fail to make your long term or 1 year plan. It simply means you disciplining yourself and conditioning yourself or refusing yourself not to work on anything other than items on the list
  • There is indeed a danger of using a shorter list. Imagine having a short must-do list and now compare the same with long list of might-do list. Which one do you think gets done better? While one may answer a shorter must-do list which inherently gives one focus, but I also presume the amount of resitance one may have to do a task on a must-do list will be greater than in a longer might-do list despite it’s length.
  • While I don’t completely agree with David Allen’s idea of importing one’s brain on to paper or any capturing tool to free and unclutter one’s mind (Your mind never gets free), but it helps. Brainstorming by making a list of to-dos, ideas, wish list, anything goes could help. You can then sort it out as actionable or incubate it in your ‘Someday/ Maybe List’. So have your short to-do list, but don’t fail to capture random ideas once in a while. It is okay to have a longer list somewhere else.
  • These days we have been penchant on focus and getting our ‘priorities’ right that we fail to appreciate the positive power of creative distraction. That said, it is okay to do your non-important, mosquito tasks. I wrote elsewhere <link> that getting your low priority tasks done and out of way can build momentum and free your mind to take on the high priority tasks.
  • It is okay not to do a task on your shorter list. Despite your meticulous prioritization, there will times when the task you have on your short list may become redunctant. Don’t worry about it – that is how life works. 
  • It is okay to do a task that was not on your shorter list – Tiago Forte calls it opportunistic task productivity.

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