Time for a Task List

Blessed be the list makers.

Someone, probably

Ever since university, I have been way, way busy with many different plates spinning.

The best help to keep track of things? (Drumroll, please!)

Task lists.

That’s right – “do this, then that” lists have saved my bacon more than I care to recount.

How I have kept myself on track in accomplishing goals has evolved over the years to suit my needs as they arise. If you need help with our own success (getting it or excelling it!), it is time for a task list for you, too 🙂

Generally:

Each item on the task list should take more than ~10-15 minutes, but no more than about 1 (or 2, at the extreme) hours to complete.

Skip adding daily habitual tasks you need no help with. This could mean no list-item for brushing teeth or taking a shower, yet could include exercise or a reminder to dedicate time to having lunch. As such, laundry could be a task item because it happens only infrequently (i.e. less frequent than every day).

When written, keep tasks short-and-sweet. 6 words or less thereabouts to remind you of what to do (e.g. I listed writing this blog as “Blog #6”, the weekly review before publishing as “Review Blog”), a phone number or detail to help you, and that is all. Any more is largely time wasting for your task list 🤷‍♂️

I find 4 tasks a workday (i.e. not including my job on a personal task list) is typical, 8-10 on a non-workday the same, so keeping this in mind is a great way to start. There may be more done sometimes, there may be less, but your tempo is for you to discover over time.

Separate “work” (i.e. employment) from “life” – what you need to do at your job has no place being on your personal list. Both work and life ought have task lists, but neither has place on the other as a distraction!

(If searching for a job is your new job, then sure, include those tasks too, but do not forget to schedule leisure too!)

Use boxes! Checkboxes, that is. An x or ✓ just feels so tactile, so good – crossing out a completed item is a simple joy that encourages further accomplishment ❤ (Paper and pen really feed into this feeling.)

If you feel you are not getting your boxes checked in the best order or as many as you would like to, track your time. Do it for a day, a week, two, a month. Time tracking keeps you honest and your task lists prioritized. I have used Toggl for free for years, with my current time buckets like so:

  • Job
    • Individual development tickets and broad “support” buckets for meetings, answering questions, and planning.
  • Goals
    • “Tasks” for the monthly goals, but I throw in exercise, blogging, writing, and game design here too.
  • Others
    • Dates, meals together, lengthy conversations.
  • Leisure
    • Gaming, reading, movies, shows.
  • Chores
    • Maintenance routines (making food, waking up, showering, laundry etc.) and travelling.

Just Write ’em Down

As things come up, put them on a list. As that list runs to the end of the page, rewrite the tasks left to do in whatever order you see fit on the next page. If you have more than a page of things left to do, you have too much! Decide on what not to do or to delegate, and get those things off the list.

This can be utter chaos, yet you will have your task list!

Kanban Boards

These were popular when I was in university a long while ago.

Put every potential task onto a “card” or “ticket” in the “To Do” column. When starting on that task, put it into the “WIP” column. When done, move the card to the “Done” column.

Pretty simple – both in setup and execution with notecards on bulletin boards or using online programs. While meant for teams of people to know how the rest of the team fairs, boards worked great for me for a long time by also customizing the process (e.g. adding a “Planning” or “Review” column, or color-coding tasks on type or priority).

Calendar

Block out chunks of time to get tasks done. Include locations, people and contact deets if needed. Keeps your plans on track or lets you know if tasks are going “over budget” as it were.

Google Calendar is great for this because it has functionality in addition to appointments:

Have something to do? Create a task for it, adding extra notes internally. When done, click the checkbox to complete it.

As days carry on, uncompleted tasks carry over, stacking with others as time goes on. Easy drag-and-drop functionality lets reorganizing happen fast while also keeping track of the daily schedule.

Hours, Days, Weeks, Months

Mark down what needs to be done in the next few hours (today), days (this week), weeks (the month), and months (calendar quarter).

This list needs to be rewritten every day, so this time can serve as meditation of what is so important in needs to be done today, or what can be put off. Move things sooner as needed, and get started on future tasks earlier if ahead and so inclined!

Priority Sections

This was my go-to when writing this blog post some weeks prior to posting, so this has been kept fresh!

Every day, I list sections on a page consisting of 4 checkboxes, each section separated by a line. If I want to get something done sooner, I add it to the topmost section; if it can wait, I jot on the bottommost.

As the day begins, I tackling the first section, perhaps dipping into the second as opportunity comes. When a second completes, I take a break by doing a task for leisure (a goal of mine to spend more time on leisure) – playing a video game level, reading ~30 minutes, watching an episode of some show.

For me, sectioning my task list is the best way at this time for me to treat some formerly rampant workaholism. It may help you, too!

Category Sections

My current technique.

Same as the above – sections of 4 – but only 4 sections per day. Those sections are my current priorities, coming in “Job”, “Projects”, “Relaxation”, and “Chores”.

Can hit them in any order, getting some 8-12 done a day. from starting breakfast to dimming the lights. Not all 4 in a section need to be filled to leave room for the impromptu, but I find chucking surprise tasks into a large list* for tomorrow to be a better option.

* This list is a text document on my computer of priorities 3-2-1 (0 doesn’t make it). I judge a task based on “+1 Now (within the month-ish) or +0 Later?” “+1 Required or +0 Optional?” “+1 Heck-Yes I Like It or +0 Dislike?” I pick from 3 on down to fill the next day’s tasks!

Which Task List Is Best?

The million-dollar question. And the hopefully not-too-flippant answer?

It depends 🤷‍♂️ Depends largely on the situation you are in and the task list that best fits how you work.

What matters is that you have a plan of action, then stick to that plan. That is where tasks lists shine, being a great companion for me and are or will be for you too. Now is the time for a task list, so get after it!

Published by

Jimmy Chattin

Processor of data, applier of patterns.

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