To Do or Not To Do

The purpose of to do lists“How many to-do’s are on your to-do list?”

An innocent enough question.

“One hundred and fifty to two hundred,” I replied.

He laughed out loud and said “That’s nuts!”

I was doing a Planning and Priorities seminar for a group of Christian ministry leaders, and went on to explain that the point of a to-do list isn’t to get it done.

The name of the list fools you.

(Just like the phrase “time management” makes you think the point is managing time when it’s really about allocating energy.)

As for my to-do list, I didn’t go into detail about what it really looks like, or he might have really lost it.

My primary list currently has 177 items on it.

My admin to-do list has 54, Domestic list has 42, and a list related to a contract I’m doing has 62.

But some of the items on these lists are themselves lists. For instance the items related to various marketing projects often have a sub-list of a couple dozen items.

So it’s pretty safe to say that if you were to look at every list and sublist there are around 400 items vying for my attention.

But my to-do list isn’t really a to-do list.

It’s an idea list, a possibility list, a comprehensive list of options for various areas of my life and work.

Every idea I have gets onto my to do list. I add items almost daily.

I know very well that most of them will never get done and I’m okay with that.

Because the whole point of the list is to make sure I never lose a good or great idea, and to give me context for prioritizing, which is where the leverage really is.

The items in my list are labeled as !Daily, !Weekly, 1- Now, 2- Next, 3- Soon, 4- Someday and 6- Waiting.

  • The !Daily and !Weekly items stay at the top of the list in my face.
  • The 1’s are items I want to get done this week.
  • The 2’s are what I move into if all the 1’s get done, though I’m more likely to go canoeing if that happens.
  • The 3’s are future 2’s and 1’s.
  • The 4’s are a long list of ideas that may never get done.
  • And the 6’s are items I have taken action on but need to wait for time to pass or someone else to do something before I can complete it.

There are no 5’s and I can’t remember exactly why. I think I just found that I had one category too many.

Ideally every week, ideally on a Sunday afternoon or evening, I go through the lists and make sure the most important items are at level 1. Sometimes I only check the 1’s, 2’s and 6’s because I know the others are not time sensitive.

I always delete some because they’re no longer of interest or value to me.

There are limitless ways of managing ideas and tasks. This one works for me for now.

But the most important thing to remember when it comes to these lists is that it’s really about prioritization.

Some to-do’s should never get done.

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