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Last Monday, I made a mistake that cost me a day of productivity. I had two major projects to move forward, but instead of writing, as I usually do, project – specific tasks, I just wrote “Website Updates” and “5-Minute Time Management Solution Book Edits”, without specifics as to which update or which chapter I would focus on that day. So my mind immediately went into “I have plenty of time” mode – after all those two projects have a whole week to get completed. And, feeling that I had all the time in the world, I meandered through the day, and didn’t get anything accomplished for my website or my book.

It’s no wonder that so many people, having similar experiences to mine, think that to-do lists don’t work (even some of my colleagues think that!) Now if you have the wrong kind of to-do list, those people are absolutely correct, they don’t work. A to-do list that, like mine on Monday, has only vague projects whose deadline is in the future, won’t work. A to-do list that is a mile-long list of all the things that you need to do at any time in the future, also won’t work for you.

Neither will help you get things done, because neither is what you really need to get things done today.

The mile-long list, known in the jargon as a running to-do list, is NOT a tool that you will – or should – use throughout the day. Its purpose is to give you a place to record all of your tasks and projects so that you don’t forget any, and to free up brainpower for more important and interesting things than remembering a given task.

The list containing projects is not an actionable to-do list either. It’s a list of the projects you need to move forward today or this week. That’s it. No more, no less. It’s a very useful list to have so you can make sure that you don’t forget to work on a project until the deadline is uncomfortably close, but, again, it’s NOT one that serves you every day, because it is not directly actionable.

The kind of to-do list that works to help you get things done is a list that contains carefully chosen immediately actionable items (in my case, as I normally would do it, “5MTMS – edit Chapter 1 and 2 as per notes”, and “Website – Review and Edit Page X”).

During the day, refer to the list, but make it a roadmap rather than an absolute to meet. Too often, I see this list used as an absolute reference, something that has to be completed or the day was a failure. However, since life – or even our days – rarely goes according to plan. So, if you look at your daily to-do list as an absolute to meet, you are dooming yourself to failure, and will soon abandon it as a failed tool.

While the purpose of the list, while being to encourage you to get as much of it done as possible, is first and foremost to provide you with a direction and a roadmap to the desired day, so that, when thrown off track, you can get back on track at the first opportunity, and you can avoid getting off track when it’s not absolutely necessary. (That’s why I call this tool the daily roadmap instead of the to-do list.)


  • So what kind of to-do list are you using? A carefully crafted one made of immediately actionable items; a laundry list of tasks and projects; a list of projects; a mix of the above?
  • How can you modify your list to make it a useful daily roadmap instead?
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