It Is Time To Stop Using The Traditional To-Do List

J.R. Heimbigner
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In an era of in-depth task management apps, we are still stressed out beyond belief due to our huge task lists. When we look at these long lists, there is a feeling of dread and in some cases, guilt. Guilt for not being able to complete them right now. Dread because they overwhelm us the moment we look at them.

Stacks of Paper

Now, we are in the digital age. However, because we can store so much information we seem to enjoy having a lot of information at our fingertips. We can now buy a hundred books and keep them on our tablets. They don’t take up a wall of bookshelves or four boxes in my garage. It’s amazing! And so we buy a hundred books!

While looking at an old program on my computer from a few years ago, I counted all the tasks I had entered into my app. I had over four hundred tasks recorded. More than half were supposed to have been completed the month in which I stopped using the program!

If I was keeping those tasks on paper, it would have been several pages of legal pad paper. And it only one month. The other thing I realized task management software had done to me was create subtasks I didn’t need to write down. However, I did in the program, because I could. Almost all of those four hundred tasks had at least two to three subtasks to them.

If I put each task and subtask onto an index card, I would easily have a thousand index cards. And the thought of so many cards and tasks being left undone or needing prioritization is causing a minor panic in me as I write.

Task List Reduction

At some point over the last four years, I started reducing my task lists. I still keep lists in a journal for projects and things I need to do for those projects, but they are no longer at my fingertips to complicate my day. Any given month, I probably have fifteen to thirty open tasks. But they are not always urgent or important.

When things started getting overwhelming at work and I started to look for ways to reduce stress and create margin, I found this tip:

Reduce Your Task List

As I looked at my life, I realized I had already done this. However, for work, I learned I needed to do it too. With my job, I typically perform a few hundred tasks a day. What I needed to do was focus on the most important tasks, the high-level tasks for my task list.

Personal & Work, Fusing the Two

One of the most important things I have learned over the years is how important it is to understand the difference between work and home. Work task lists are different than home tasks for many of us, so we should be ready to have different lists for these areas of our lives.

My Personal Tasks

I typically break these open tasks down into when I will complete them. I break them down by which week in the month I will complete them. And then which day might work best in the week.

This is my breakdown:

  • Week One: Task A (Monday) & Task C (By Friday)
  • Week Two: Task B (Tuesday), Task D (By Friday)
  • Week Three: Task E & F (Thursday)
  • Week Four: Task G (Wednesday)
  • Week Five (Bonus Week): No Tasks!

Notice, each day only has one or two major tasks. Though I might still need to go to the grocery store or make a few phone calls, which go with the task, I only consider one task. An example would be: Review and Pay doctor’s bill. For me this involved a few things naturally:

  • Call Health Insurance: make sure they paid this bill or reduced it.
  • Call Medical Provider: Ask for further reductions or the possibility of a discount for paying now.
  • Make Payment and Send It: Write the check and put it in the mailbox.

These are four subtasks for one major task. But I only consider the one task on my list. Because the other ones are things I do naturally (I am probably one of a thousand people who actually do all this with medical bills).

My Work Tasks

I keep work tasks much broader to help me keep momentum and feel as though I am completing my work. I focus on the things that create the most production, following the 80/20 rule. My list typically looks more like this:

  • Follow Up Offers (Calls and Email)
  • Evaluate One Claim
  • Review New Claims
  • Complete Training

The tasks listed above are the most important things I do. The training keeps me out of trouble, and the other tasks help me close out work. If I complete this list but have a few minor tasks left, I still feel confident in my work product and know any other tasks not on this list will be completed on other days.

What it Means to Reduce Your Task List

Reducing your task list isn’t about doing less work. It is about doing important work and feeling productive. It is a catalyst to getting a lot done. If you have ten or more things on your list, you may not complete them all every day. It is incredibly demoralizing when you never complete your task list.

However, with three to five items, you can normally complete all those tasks. And when it is the most important work, the other less important tasks can be followed up at a later date. This gives you momentum and encouragement in being productive. I typically always get through every one of those tasks and find time to do extra while still creating additional margin.

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My goal with my writing is to help people get everything done they want in their very busy lives. I believe we can we all can achieve our dreams and I know it starts with having the right mindset, systems, and taking action every single day. My writing shares how to do this through self-improvement, inspiration, and productivity.

Spokane, WA
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