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Tag Archives: To-Do List

Even on days when I start out strong, I sometimes end up clicking aimlessly from window to window, shuffling through inboxes and browser tabs.  It’s not even a conscious decision to goof off; I just end up wandering in this un-productive trance.

I think what I lack is the instinct to return to my prioritized to-do list after I finish something.  This is a habit that i need to develop.

Edit: Or, as a good friend pointed out: when I get to that lethargic don’t-feel-like-working state, I should take a break!  Trying to force myself to work when the biology is against me is counter-productive in so many ways.


I have tried many, many task tracking methods and to-do list apps.  They all work for a while, but eventually they get too complicated and I stop using them.  I always end up returning to the old tried and true: pen-and-paper.

I can write bigger and smaller, add notes in the margins, highlight things, draw boxes, check things off and cross things out.  It’s all very intuitive.  Whenever the page fills up, I re-writing the list, copying over all the unfinished tasks to a fresh page.  This is a built-in regular review of my tasks.  Things get re-prioritized, unimportant tasks get dropped, and my list never gets too big.

I might spend an extra 5-10 minutes a week re-writing lists, but it’s time well spent.  For me, no method works better.

Yesterday I had a good day, my first productive day in a while.  I made a list, I used the timer for everything, and I got shit done.  I even spent six 20-minute periods working on my top-priority project, the one I’ve been avoiding for two weeks now.  And I finished it!

1. With One Good Day under my belt, I now feel like I have a foothold, a beachhead in the realm of Productivity.  I have this imaginary momentum that I want to maintain.  I feel like it will be easier to have another good day, today.

2. Why, after weeks of being at sea, did I finally have a good day?  Who knows.  Maybe it was the new approach I tried of making my list for the day: I put EVERYTHING on it: work tasks, phone calls to make, “work out,” “shower and get dressed,” and I listed my top priority project four times.  The premise was that crossing things off the list feels rewarding, so the more things on the list the better! – and I wanted to spend several 20-minute periods on my top priority that day.  I even wrote “free internet time” on my list – and allowed 20 minutes for that (better than my usual 6 hours…).  I also want to get into the habit of NOT doing anything that isn’t on the list.  Anything new that came up went on the general TO-DO list for consideration tomorrow (unless it was too urgent to wait).

I’ll be using the same list technique today.  Wish me luck.


I’ve been all over the place lately, I need to check in with the local chapter of Procrastinators Anonymous.  That’s me and you.  This meeting shall now come to order.

What have I learned?  That:

  • when I stop using the timer and filling in the Unschedule, my work habits and productivity suffer precipitously.
  • I procrastinate when a project hits an unexpected road block, when a difficult decision is required, or when I discover that more work than I had planned on is required.
  • When “important” non-work things (like blogging about election issues) creep into my work day, they quickly become permanent additions to my routine (because they’re more fun than real work) and take up increasingly more of my time.
  • When I “fall off the wagon,” I can’t expect to just snap back to the level of productivity that I had attained before, I may have to start again at the beginning and work my way back up.
  • If I spend my “work” and “guilt-free play” periods all at the computer without getting up, I get lethargic and dopey and lose the will to be productive.  No matter what my guilt-free play entails, I should get up and re-invigorate myself every 30mins or so!
  • Daily exercise is great for avoiding headaches and getting quality sleep.
  • BEFORE I sit down at the computer, I should decide what I’m here to DO, and then start the timer (even for play).  Otherwise, I can waste hours on email, FB, newspaper sites and websurfing before I even look at my to-do list.
  • Important personal projects, if I’m going to get them done, should switch between “guilt-free play” activities and “work” activities depending on my level of enthusiasm/procrastination for them.  Most personal projects start out as the former and morph into the latter before completion.
Further thoughts:

  • When “important” non-work things come up and have to be done in the work day, I should treat them as either work or guilt-free play: in either case, using the timer, and taking care to balance priorities.  This will allow me to maintain those good habits, and not accidentally vasta the diem.  😉

One idea that has been ringing very true for me lately is that the “me” who sets my deadlines, writes my to-do list and creates my daily plans is not the same “me” who actually sits down to do the work.

I feel so empowered and optimistic when I’m planning.  I’m going to get it done early, I’m going to be so productive today, I’m going to replenish my bank account, I’m going to make my clients happy.

And then I try to get down to work.  I read the first item on my list, and the next thing I know I’m checking Facebook again.  I try to re-focus on the task at hand – and there it is waiting for me, that feeling of dread.  The optimism of a moment ago is already forgotten.  It’s like I’m two different people, the planner and the worker.

I’m going to shamelessly re-post one of the comments from that article I cited in my previous post.  This respondent points out that any system will only work if it’s part of a right-thinking approach to work.

This might just be the best summary of anti-procrastination behaviour ever:

First, it is crucial to understand that [this method assumes] that you want to organize your non-committed time, that is: time which is not fixed in appointments, meetings etc.

Second, if you are a person who seeks the “best” way to organize tasks: don’t do it! You will spend most of your productive time sorting lists, finding software for your lists, choosing Moleskins and pens etc.

Ultimately, you need these things:

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