I am a huge fan of to do lists, but their time has come and gone.

These never ending lists, which always start off small but are forever sprouting new tasks, almost as soon as one item is marked done, another is soon added to take it’s place. It is the modern day symbol for the hamster wheel of corporate work life. It never ends.

There is two sides to this approach.

On one hand, it can help you feel in control, organised and prepared for the day ahead (after all I have a plan and it’s written down).

On the other hand, is overwhelm and depression at the lack of progress and the reality that the list will never end. New items will be added to it generally faster than existing ones can be checked off. Growth is inevitable. Even accepting all of the downsides, there is still value in maintaining a list of stuff to do. For one, you are less likely to forget stuff so in general you will get more stuff done, more of the time.

The problem lies in the execution, not in the concept itself.

The key consideration that is missing from most todo lists is Time. It is planning the When will this task be done. Most of the time, it remains a long list of stuff to do with little or no consideration for planning when this task could or should be completed. Unless you add in all of your other pre existing calendar appointments, the list is not integrated with the rest of your appointments so items on the to do list are left to be completed in the void between existing meetings, which can often not be the best place for them.

So what’s the solution?

A better approach here is to take each item on your to do list today, order them by priority and then create some time blocks in your work calendar to complete each task. Some of the key benefits of this simple change in approach:

  1. You are now considering how long that task will take.
  2. You are considering when you can look at it.
  3. There is finite amount of time in the week, this way forces you to prioritise the stuff that really matters.
  4. There is less overwhelm and stress here as the week is mapped out ahead of time.
  5. If something new comes in that is higher priority, then you can swop out a less important task.
  6. Now the to do list is integrated with your other pre existing appointments, so you have a much clearer view of ALL of your commitments, in one place.
  7. Initially when new tasks come up, write it down on a post-it or a journal or whatever, but once you have planned it in your diary, throw away the post-it.

I’ve been using this new approach and mindset for a while now and it feels like a far better solution to better time and task management.

One last caveat here – to be successful using this strategy, you have to respect the time blocks you have created in your calendar. I say this as I know that some folk place less importance on time blocks they have created for themselves vs attending other peoples meetings, so what I would say is have respect for your calendar and your own time!