Tools What problem am I trying to solve?

Seven Steps to Fixing Stalled To-Do Tasks

You need to understand my to-do list process before you read these steps. I strive for a daily inbox-zero task system, which means I can scrub the complete list in less than 10 minutes. The size of individual entries varies. Most can be completed in one work session, but others are project-like tasks where the to-do is the next logical step.

The never-ending question you must ask regarding whatever productivity system you’ve built is, “Does this system make you more productive?”

My first warning sign of being unproductive is when I sense I’m rescheduling more tasks than I’m completing. When I enter this state, I walk through the following list in my head for EVERY SINGLE ITEM ON MY TODAY’S LIST.

  1. Ask. Am I going to do this? Ask again if this is the 10th time you’ve deferred this task.
  2. Ask. Why is this important? Or why does this exist? What problem am I trying to solve?
  3. Ask. If I put it in the future, how guilty will I feel?
  4. Ask. What significant consequence occurs if I don’t complete this task?
  5. Discern. How many times have I punted this?
  6. Edit. Rewrite the task to describe the task in terms of the next achievable step.
  7. (Last resort) Mark it complete. Don’t think. Do.

DO NOT add tags, create projects, or create other to-do infrastructure to manage your to-dos better. This is procrastination disguised as productivity.

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4 Responses

  1. I wish todo solutions (in my case, Things) would show how many times you’ve rescheduled a task.

  2. Terry 5 months ago

    “do not add tags, create projects, or create other to-do infrastructure…”

    This sounds like you aren’t a fan of the Allen ‘GTD’ process, which has a lot of that infrastructure. If you’ve tried but discarded it, that would be a good read.

    I’ve sort-of used it for years, but lately been finding it creates a lot of busywork that masquerades as accomplishment, but not sure what would work better. (I felt it worked better in the past, not sure when things went off-track.)

  3. I’ve done the reschedule count for a time using tags and used variants of “best before date” to achieve something similar.

    The best option that worked for me was using a filter on the age (>365days) without tags: once a week / month you go through the filtered tasks and prune. Also great for occasionally repeating tasks and shared tasks and whether they still apply. If it’s still relevant, create a duplicate and delete the old one, to reset the best before date.