The Tao of To-Do Lists
by contributor Robert Janelle
Hi, my name is Robert and I am a slacker.
This is a problem, particularly for a freelancer who doesn’t have an angry boss who yells when you’re not working. A few months ago, I realized I need to knock off the bad habits and start becoming more productive.
For me, the first step in slacker rehab was to replace the angry boss with a to-do list.
A list of tasks is simple, yet incredibly powerful. The question, “What should I be doing right now?” is answered by glancing at the list. Get distracted? A look back at the list and you know where you were going.
Plus, there’s the endorphin rush that comes from crossing off tasks as they’re completed. The feeling is even better when you realize there’s nothing left on the list.
Of course, the to-list becomes useless if it’s neglected, like deferring tasks without adding them to a new list list or forgetting to add tasks as they come up. It would be similar to your boss not caring if you finish the project or not.
Think of the list like a sink full of dishes. If you always wash dirty plates when there are only a few in the sink, it stays empty for the most part. But as soon as you ignore it and let them pile up, the tendency is just let them continue to pile up because, hey, what a a few more dishes when there are already so many to wash?
Before you know it, the dishes are stacked so high, you need to move them to the bathtub because there’s no room to work (I speak from experience.)
Now, there are many ways to manage your list, here are just a few:
- There’s a plethora of web-based apps to manage a to-do list (FreelanceSwitch lists of number of task managers in the 101 Essential Freelancing Resources),
- A simple text file left on the desktop, modified as tasks are completed and can even be made portable by saving it to a mini USB drive,
- E-mailing your tasks to yourself and deleting them once they’re completed,
- Keeping your list with you on a mobile computer. Most PDAs have task management software, or
- Sometimes the simplest solution is the best: just carry a pen and paper everywhere.
There’s really no right or wrong way when it comes to the tools. I personally use a three-pronged approach: always carrying paper and pen, a web-based list on Remember The Milk, and set reminders on my cell phone.