Lists aren’t inherently complicated but many people use
them badly. You wouldn’t watch a colour TV in black and
white, so get your TO-DO list out and shape it up with
this list optimisation tool.
Who this tool is for
As projects get going and our
brain ticks away anticipating
what we need to do next, our list
of tasks gets longer. If you keep
adding things to your to-do list
and its expansion is making you
feel overwhelmed, then this tool
is for you. If you don’t have some
sort of to-do list but carry all your
pending work in your head, then
this tool is definitely for you too.
What you will get out of it
After using this tool, you’ll have
manageable lists of tasks and
actions that you can work from.
You’ll have more thinking space
as you won’t be worrying about
remembering what you need to
What you’ll need
• An hour free of interruptions
• Your existing task lists and
associated tools (pen, phone,
• For best results use after Project
Tools created by
CLICK HERE TO LEARN
HOW TO WORK SMARTER.
With your to-dos to hand go
through the following checklist
and upgrade your list.
1. Time sensitive
and large tasks
If your list includes time-sensitive
activities or tasks that need to be
worked on over several days take
these off your list and schedule
them in your calendar. (See the
‘Managing your calendar’ tool).
2. Turn task reminders
Single word memory joggers
aren’t up to the job. We’ve all
fallen victim to meaningless clues
on our lists. Task items should
be actionable instructions with
a verb, perhaps with a stab at
the time required too.
3. Turn any ambiguous or
unhelpful items on your list into
For larger tasks consider how
they could be reduced into
discrete steps that will make
them easier to start.
4. Is your list uncomfortably
Long lists may be exhaustive but
they can be hard to navigate
and overwhelming. Consider
organising your list into a number
of smaller ones themed in a
relevant way, for example:
• A place - such as home,
work or town
• A tool - such as your accounting
• A time - such as a weekly
• A person - such as your
deputy or your partner
• A project session – such as
DIY or client X
Pitch doc and
5. Let go of stuff
Are there items on your to-do
list you never get around to
doing? Everyone makes plans,
and has ideas, sometimes they
have to be left behind because
other things have taken over.
Create a ‘backburner’ list for
things that aren’t going to happen
soon, but that you might want to
come back to later.
6. Do you have a mix of
tasks and projects?
A task is not the same as a project.
Projects are made up of a series
of tasks. Having both on the
same list is unhelpful: a project
title does not tell you what to do.
Instead keep a separate list of your
projects. Use this as a reminder
of all the areas you want to be
working on that you can quickly
review to make sure you are
7. Is everything on your list
aligned to your objectives?
Are you committing to work you
shouldn’t be doing, that distracts
you from your most important
goals? Try to negotiate yourself
out of them, delegate them to
someone more appropriate or
move them to your backburner.
8. Finding a good home
for your list
Paper works well and lists can
live on smartphones and apps too.
Tools like Outlook, Evernote and
Basecamp allow you to share lists
with and assign tasks to
team mates. For agenda lists
you can even keep them within
a calendar item for everyone to
see and add to.
9. Review your lists regularly
At least once per week (see the
‘weekly review’ tool). If it helps,
glance over them daily (See the
Daily Review tool.)
10. Do some work
Fine tuning your lists isn’t
If you’ve turned your lists
from evil-looking monsters
to handy companions
helping you through your
week, tell us on Twitter