Curating To-Do Lists

My love for to-do lists has been well-documented over the years. I have to-do lists for pretty much every area of my life. There isn’t a thing I do that isn’t defined by a structured list. At one point this past weekend (two points, actually), I had four separate to-do lists open because each one had a task similar to one on another list, and I was hoping to kill four birds with one stone.

The task turned out to be much larger than anticipated, and I’m still working on it! You get the point, though. I have a lot of to-do lists.

Knowing that I keep up with at least a dozen lists at any given point in time often causes people to ask me how (and more importantly, why) I do it. Part of it is that I’ve quested ceaselessly after the perfect to-do manager, and then I’ve figured out how to make it show my tasks the way I want them. The other part is that not everything on those lists is what they call an actionable task. Some of them are “someday” tasks. They relate to the project they’re listed under, but for whatever reason I don’t expect to be in a position to get it done any time soon. It’s listed so I won’t forget it.

What I liked about Todoist originally was that I could create these hierarchical lists of tasks. One list could be each step of a project, neatly indented to show what task went with what step. I could even put notes and links as separate items to keep them with their tasks. When the time came to leave Todoist, newly-released GQueues allowed me to do the same thing, in technicolor, and with my notes and links attached directly to their tasks. Both allowed me to set deadlines. Both allowed for routine and “someday” tasks.

Tasks have three ways off their list. Most leave because I complete them. Some migrate to different lists because they fit better with another activity. Some become obsolete because of other work completed and are deleted. (It’s actually funny how often that happens.) Some merge into other tasks by becoming sub-tasks or notes. I realize it sounds like a lot of work, but I really do accomplish quite a bit in any given week. I also spend a few minutes on Sunday and Thursday nights going over each list, looking for mergable and obsolete tasks to keep my lists lean and moving.

Keeping a maintainable to-do list, regardless of how many you are actually managing, requires you to think about what you really want to accomplish (actions), what you might want to accomplish (“someday”s), and the resources needed to accomplish those tasks. It requires you to be willing to see connections and to be willing to let things go. When it’s done correctly, maintaining to-do lists can be very relaxing.

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