Start and finish with one system

I don’t care what it is: you need one place and solely one place to write down what you have to do. It doesn’t matter if that’s pen and paper, it doesn’t matter if it’s a full-on OmniFocus To Do app that’s synced across every computer, tablet and phone you own.

Well, there are limits.

If you’re driving behind a very dirty van, scrawling To Do: Clean Me isn’t ideal.

If you’re currently using Post-It notes or you’re strangely drawn to them, stop now. Post-It notes are not your friend. They’re certainly not mine as I’m papyrophobic – I’m a writer afraid of paper – but they’re also definitely not yours because they are like a party you’re not invited to.

The clue is in the name: Post-It Notes. Plural. Nobody ever had one Post-It note with their To Do list on, they have had many, many such notes since the dawn of time or when such notes were invented, whichever came later.

And you need one.

Just one.

It might have to be pretty big: a paper spiral-bound notebook rather than a single sheet. I do definitely recommend computers for about a hundred thousand reasons.

But what’s mandatory is that you have one place.

One place that you write down everything you’ve got to do: it must be one place, without exception, and it must be everything, without fail. You need one system: when you have a task to do, you write it in this one place, then you do the task, then you mark in this one place that you’ve done it.

I say this to you and I start twitching about roughly a hundred thousand things that tell me I’m right to rely on OmniFocus. But if you’re just starting out getting your head clear and if you’ve fallen off this productivity wagon, I know that the first thing to do is to have one place, one system.

How do you know when you’re finished if you have more than one place to check?

Umberto Eco on lists

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.

The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists.

We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die – Spiegel (2009)

I can’t remember any lists in The Name of the Rose, but oh, how I loved that book. I was reading it in London when working on a magazine. Got to the Tube stop by the office and instead of going up to work, I sat on the platform to finish reading it. To finish the last 200 pages.


Do read more about Eco’s rather well worked out opinions on why we do To Do lists or any other kind of lists in this interview from Spiegel magazine.


Should you write your To Do tasks as question?


So there.

Write your To Dos as if someone else is going to do them. Take the time to put that extra explanatory detail in there – so instead of writing “Phone meeting Anne” on your list, write “Phone Anne to ask her for purchase order number”. The second takes longer to write but you come to the phone tomorrow and you are dialling immediately. The former is shorter but tomorrow you’re going to look at “Phone meeting Anne” and think, what’s that about? Is she phoning me or am I supposed to phone her? And you may well have to stop to think: hang on, which Anne?

I believe this, I do this, it works. Not everyone agrees.

1# Change a relatively boring list to something that can excite you
Since lists in their current state are declarative in nature, I first tackled changing the way I write them.

I found out that we’re more likely to read something if it has a question mark attached to it which led me to change the way I write tasks.

Let’s start with one of the most boring tasks that I know off, doing your laundry.

Instead of writing it like the mundane task it is i.e. as a declaration “- Do the laundry at 8 PM”, write it as a question or even a challenge! This will rub some extra flavor into it “Can you finish the laundry before 8:30 PM?” and will make sure you’ll tackle it.

Asking question stimulates our curiosity; curiosity is an engine that motivates us to explore and discover.

Are We Managing Our To-Do Lists All Wrong? – IQ Tell

Haim Pekel wrote that on the IQ Tell productivity blog which I didn’t see and hadn’t heard of until Lifehacker spotted it yesterday. Lifehacker’s more pro this idea than I am, so do read the full piece on IQ Tell to see what you think.