I'm going to let you in on a little secret, your to do lists are making you inefficient, stressed out, and fat...ok maybe not fat but the other two for sure. But how can this be you ask, as you look over your well organized GTD to do list on your iPad or the whiteboard on the wall with different lists of color coded things that you have today, tomorrow, next week, and every second in between?
Tasks and projects have timing associated with them. They are either due on a certain date, or there are milestones along the way, or they have to start at a certain time and date. No matter how you look at it, tasks involve timing. By taking the time (wasting it really) to make those to do lists, you are making static something that needs to be very dynamic. You remember that time you forgot to wash off the remnants of your tuna fish sandwich before putting your plate in the dishwasher and your significant other reminds you of it for what seems like eternity? That's how I see to do lists. You may be wondering about on going projects that take days or even months. Those are the tasks you especially do not want on a to do list because a big project can never be the whole plan, you must have appropriate mini goals and milestones along the way.
For a to do type task to be effective it has to disrupt your life at the appropriate time that you can get it done in the most efficient way but be completely out of sight and out of mind when it's no being worked on. It doesn't matter how efficient or organized you are, if you have a list with a dozen items on it, some of which require you waiting on someone else before moving forward (does that lack of control make a bead of sweat form on your temple?) and others which stay on your whiteboard for so long that when you finally wipe it off the ghosts of those letters remain visible forever, you will be a stressed out maniac. You will look at that list with horror and dismay.
If you've followed the principles of this blog, by now your inbox should be pretty well organized. If not, don't worry, just refer to the fundamentals and email posts and you'll be well on your way. Once you have a well oiled machine of an inbox, you want to use email as your primary tool for all sorts of tasks. Email is also pretty universal, works across devices, and gets you wherever you are. Gmail has become my defacto to do list and even my CRM system with the help of two key technologies.
I've probably written about FollowUp.cc a dozen times, but it's just THAT good. You send any email and then CC a time period at followup.cc to be reminded of that email at the specified time. You can do email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and even email@example.com. FollowUp.cc also creates a calendar feed so you can subscribe to it in Google Calendar and see all of your upcoming followups...wait a minute, a list of things I need to do organized by the date and time that I need to do them, with default reminders in my calendar? Sounds like a pretty good to do list to me. Not only do those emails come to me at just the right time but I can look at my calendar for tomorrow and see all of my followups, even ones I set over a month ago, and I know exactly what I have to do. It's the task management version of carpe diem. I don't care what happened before and I don't care what will be happening (important misuse of conjugation) after, I only care about what I need to deal with immediately. I use this system for every task there may be such as:
- Grocery list that follows up a couple of hours before I know we'll be at the store
- Check in with a client on that project we've been working on for 3 months
- Get in touch with the person I met at a party last night, set for 1 week from now
- Call a construction material supplier in 45 minutes since that's when he's back in the office
Basically if the task is in your inbox, you need to work on it until it's done and then you can move on. Welcome to the to do list evolved.
Now I did mention there were two services, the other is HassleMe. This is a really interesting service that sends you simple repetitive email reminders on an approximate schedule. You just tell it what the reminder is and approximately how often you want to be reminded. This is absolutely excellent for those things that you have to do from time to time but don't require a rigid schedule. The randomness of it can actually provide you with some creative juices. One of the things I use it for is to remind me roughly every 4 days to write a blog post. Sometimes it will remind me after two days and sometimes it will take 6 or 7 and every time I get that reminder I'll be in a different mood, with different ideas flowing through my head. HassleMe is also really great to remind you to get gifts for people, check the air pressure in your tires, or to check your spam folder for mistakes. believe me, you don't want "Write Blog Post" sitting on your to do list and stagnating.
The Take Away
So there you have it, PLEASE put down the to do list, erase the whiteboard, use those moleskins for new ideas not forgotten tasks, and start harnessing the power of email to get more done.