We all have ideas floating around our brains and tasks that we need to get to.
For many of us, the way we keep track of them is by collecting these bits into lists
– sometimes many, many lists. In recent years, there have been new productivity
approaches that suggest creating lists for the various contexts of your life –
work (with subdivisions), personal (with subdivisions), and so on. While this
can be great for keeping your tasks organized, this approach may have some
Multiple lists can be confusing. When you have more than a couple lists to
keep track of, it can be hard to remember what item was on which list. You may
also spend time splitting hairs trying to decide which list is the very best fit for
a particular item or task. Too many lists is similar to having too many files in
your filing system – when you have lots of small divisions, sometimes it’s hard
to decide where to place an item that really could live in either place. If you find
yourself hemming and hawing over deciding which of two similar lists your task
belongs to, try streamlining or combining any closely-related lists.
More lists often equals more stress. It’s hard to wrap your head around the
entirety of what you have going on and the tasks you have to juggle when you
have more than a few lists that your tasks are spread across. I’ve worked with
people with nearly a dozen lists, including the ever-present “someday” list, who,
after going through and trying to prioritize their tasks, feel completely stressed
out. It’s no wonder – there’s too many things to do, spread among too many
different places. If having multiple lists stresses you out or leaves you feeling
overwhelmed, try whittling your lists down to just a few, and see if that feels more
manageable for you.
List management becomes a task unto itself. This is the biggest danger I
see with the multiple-list approach to to-do management, as you may end up
spending a fair amount of time managing your lists and your tasks rather than
actually completing them. Unless you are a project manager, you should focus
on making headway on your tasks rather than shuffling and reshuffling your lists.
In my experience, there’s a sort of organizing nirvana that happens when people
feel their lists are “just right” – after spending a fair chunk of time organizing
and reorganizing the lists, of course. And while feeling like you’re on top of the
organization of your tasks is great, I think it’s even better if you actually make
headway on or even complete a task or tasks instead of just organizing them.
Don’t be fooled – while having the “perfect list” can be satisfying, you’ll be even
more satisfied by making progress on your tasks. Organizing a list is NOT the
same as actually getting something done!
Now, don’t get me wrong – lists, when used well, can be useful tools for
collecting and organizing your thoughts, your priorities, and your tasks. Just be
careful that your lists are working well for you, and that you’re not spending lots
of your time managing them. Instead, your lists should be supportive tools that
you spend just enough time on to help you move closer to completing the right