Our Book of the month is “To Do List Formula: A Stress Free Guide To Creating To-Do Lists That Work “ by Damon Zahariades. This is one of 11 books by the author. All of his books are centred around the topic of personal productivity, a topic that he clearly has studied deeply.

We’ve all experienced the frustration that comes from having that 15 minute task that ultimately took 2 weeks to complete.

If you are like many people, you have probably tried many different management systems for organizing your daily life. There are so many and quite frankly almost all of them have pitfalls and break down in some way.

Our book this month takes a deep look at 10 of these systems and provides insight as to why a particular approach doesn’t work in a sustainable way.

It starts with the simplest to-do lists and examines the more capable approaches to the more sophisticated systems like “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

Todo lists suffer from a basic problem. They are often mixing tasks of differing sizes, differing importance, and rarely are they scheduled on the calendar in the way a meeting or a dental appointment would appear on the calendar.

If you’ve been listening to this show for a while you will remember that the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen was the book of the month back in…

Todo lists either capture too little, or they create overwhelm. There doesn’t seem to be a happy middle ground.

The problem with many of the to-do systems out there is that they don’t help you establish a meaningful context. Years ago, Stephen Covey built a todo system around the concept of first things first. That’s based on the idea that items can be categorized in terms of both urgency and importance. That defines a 2×2 matrix of items that are urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important. While maybe academically useful, there is no connection to projects,

Effective Task management requires gaining clarity between what is a project, a wish, a trivial task, an outcome and a task.

Sometimes I see resolutions on a todo list. Resolutions are different than todo items since they usually involve a change in habit versus a normal todo item.

Outcomes that have multiple steps are not tasks, but projects and only tasks should make it on your daily todo list. Projects should have a project plan and a todo list is a poor substitute for a project plan.

I’ve personally experienced the many pitfalls that various todo list management systems have intrinsic to their design. They have left me feeling like I can’t keep up. 

The book doesn’t prescribe a single specific one size fits all solution. Rather, it takes you through the thinking process that enables you to gain clarity on how to define a task for your todo list. If you have multiple projects that are competing for your attention on a daily basis, you will inherently experience conflicting priorities.

Many todo lists capture trivial tasks lasting 2 minutes in duration. The satisfaction of crossing something off the list creates a false sense of accomplishment when that big important task gets procrastinated.

Standard todo lists don’t distinguish between items that require input from others compared with items that can be completed in isolation. David Allen proposes a separate waiting-for list. But this additional list adds another layer of task management. Systems that are overly complex ultimately don’t get used because they are too cumbersome.

If you have a well-oiled system in place, your lists will help you to get important work done faster and with more efficiency. If your system is faulty, your lists can actually hurt your workflow, sabotage your time management, and demolish your productivity.