Building a Smarter To Do List

If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.
      — Benjamin Franklin

Like with the weather, everyone talks about productivity & time management but few do anything about it. Over the past year, I have found that I have increasingly less control over my day and seem to achieve less of my "bigger" goals than in the past. It has been a gradual erosion. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this experience. In coming across several interesting blogs on "productivity" and "quality of life", I have decided to add another category to my blog, "Productivity", and will torture my poor reader base with an occassional gem when I come across it. One of the great sites for this is 43Folders.

One of Merlin Mann’s most popular posts in 43Folders is Building a Smarter To Do List which I highly recommend you click on if this is of interest to any of you. He pulls many of his ideas from the book Getting Things Done which you can get at Amazon (link on title). One of the key points he starts off with is that we all fail to differentiate between tasks and mini-projects. His definition of what consistitutes a task (and hence should be on the list) is:

  • it’s a physical action
  • it can be accomplished at a sitting
  • it supports valuable progress toward a recognized goal
  • it’s something for which you are the most appropriate person for the job
  • (more on this in his post "Does this next action belong"

I have found my to do list getting bigger and bigger as I have a growing number of to do’s that are so monumental in scope (do due diligence on ethanol) that I procrastinate and do the shorter items. At the end of the day, I still see these items on my to do list (and their number is growing) and I feel that pressure that I failed to accomplish my to do’s that day and have that much more anxiety the next morning when I have to face this "undefeatable" list.

I have now pushed these larger "mini-projects" over to Omnioutliner (you can use Word or any other application) where I have each project and have broken each into specific clear tasks. Each morning, I pull specific tasks over to my main to do list. Ironically, my to do list has shrunk and I end each day having gotten through most of the items…a pseudo victory.

There are a host of additional insightful recommendations and thoughts in these posts (he has Part I and Part II) which capture how to decide how to filter items to reduce both the Project and To Do lists.

One thought on “Building a Smarter To Do List

  1. Working in Project Management, I would also highly recommend reading the PMBOK – the Project Management Body of Knowledge. It covers much of the same material (especially regarding work breakdown structures). The upside of getting your info from the PMBOK book is that you’ll be learning the lingo all project managers use. You can find this book on

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