I’m not very good at making lists. Actually, scratch that – I’m great at making them… I just have a terrible habit of making lists that can never be finished. This is a quick post about lists, and what goes into a good one.
1. Make it accessible. There is no use setting goals for your workday if you leave them at home. That productivity app might be awesome, but it is useless if your phone goes flat. Synchronising lists across a bunch of web apps is a great idea, unless you need to rely on a shaky internet connection to read them.
2. Make it achievable. All my failed lists have one thing in common: nebulous, subjective tasks that will never be objectively finished. Sometimes I start with them. Sometimes they hide further down the page. Regardless of where they live, they don’t belong on the list. “Refine chapter X” and “Read more on theory Y” are important, but without a bit more detail they quickly move from being milestones to millstones hanging about your neck. A good list helps you to get things done. It shouldn’t just add another layer of guilt about what you haven’t been able to finish yet.
3. Make it important. Finishing things is a nice feeling, but unimportant stuff doesn’t belong on that list – it obscures the important stuff, and helps you to avoid doing the real work. I’ve started putting the most immediate and important jobs up front, and the important-but-not-urgent stuff further down the list. I tend to enjoy doing the not-urgent stuff a bit more, and often do it first… that’s fine, as long as you keep momentum going to tackle the urgent jobs in time.
I find the Urgent/Important designation very useful, too. If something is in neither category, it shouldn’t be on the list at all. Urgent/Unimportant jobs don’t deserve much of your time or emotional investment: they are things required by others, and don’t have much worth to you. Get them out of the way, and save your energy for the things that matter.