Might As Well Face it, I’m Addicted to My To-do List

My wife accuses me of being addicted to my to-do list. She’s right – I am, and I’m proud of it.

And what is wrong with a to-do list? Never mind that I still write my list with paper and pen. Ignore the fact that I leave lists for my wife as well – I have realized that is a mistake and clearly unnecessary (recently married peeps – take note – that piece of advice is a freebie!). I’ll just keep this focused on my to-do list.

My little piece of paper is powerful. It keeps me organized. It keeps me focused. There is a tremendous sense of being in control and feeling accomplished. I am very productive and I credit a lot of my productivity to my little list.

To Do List

I learned about to-do lists from my first employer, Arthur Andersen. We used them to summarize what remained open and needed attention in the file for partner review. It was one of those things that once you hear it, it makes so much sense you adopt it immediately. Over the years, I have modified the process and adjusted it to fit my lifestyle.

A list for your list

For those of you not afraid of lists (and maybe you already have one), I thought I would share a couple of key components to effective to-do list creation and management:

  • I set personal and professional goals annually, which drive my daily behavior. It is necessary for prioritization. You may need to make choices and tradeoffs throughout the year, month and day, but goals will keep you focused.
  • I keep a list of personal items and work items. One list, two themes. It keeps my life balanced and integrated. It forces me to constantly think about what I’m doing and if I’m giving proper attention to both.
  • I keep a list of things I need to get to that do not make it onto the list immediately. These are items that need to get done, but are not time sensitive. I call this my “open” issues list. This is where I also keep my “tickler,” the file of follow-ups and reminders (side note: my colleagues love this component almost as much as my wife).
  • Your (and only your) list. You decide what goes on this list. Do not let others put stuff on it for you. That is what the “pipeline” or “open issues” list is for. If you let others put items on your list, you lose control. You will not get through what you thought was needed.
  • Review and modify the list twice a day: first thing in the morning and at the end of day. It will keep you solidly on task and give you a sense of accomplishment by reviewing what’s been checked off in a day’s time.
  • Read email before you create your initial list in the morning and your final list at night. It helps jog the memory and informs your list.
  • Low-hanging fruit. Create momentum every day. Put some things on your list that you will get done early. It will generate positive energy and confidence as you approach other items on the list.
  • Match your list to your calendar. If the calendar and associated meetings do not align to the to-do list, push the meetings. Meetings are a time suck. As a leader, you need to be present in a meeting of action. However, if it’s a meeting of information, you can read or learn more on your own time.

Keeping the balance

In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly challenging to keep track of all we have going on. As leaders, we have enough competing priorities to take up all 24 hours of each day, not to mention the personal lives we can’t ignore. I have found that my to-do list makes it all manageable, integrated and balanced. Without it, I would be lost in all aspects of life, and I’m sure I would be in even more trouble with the Missus.

For those of you who keep a to-do list, what are your secrets or tricks? I am always looking to refine and improve mine. Please share in the comments.