The Thermodynamics of To Do Lists

A productive person in motion tends to remain in motion. An unproductive person at rest tends to remain at rest. While many people think to-do lists aren’t beneficial, and find that other sorts of systems better meet their needs, I can’t live without them. They are the micro-goals and cheat-sheets that get me through the day.

If I don’t start the day reviewing my to do list for that day, I will find things to fill my time. There will be a lot of activity, but not necessarily productivity, or at least not the productivity I needed. It’s a lot like making word count — sure, I can spend all morning writing something, but if it doesn’t count as progress on the project I’m supposed to be working on, it doesn’t really matter. Looking at my list keeps me focused on the most essential tasks.

This means that your list-making skills need to be focused as well. It’s easy to get sucked into feeling as if list-making is an accomplishment unto itself. I know people who write easy things on that list, just so they have things to cross off. That’s cheating; adding “get dressed” and “eat breakfast” doesn’t make those into accomplishments worth noting, or even qualify as things you should need to be reminded of. You’ve felt the satisfaction of crossing things off of the list, even if they were trivial. What you need to do is list the essential things that you absolutely, positive have to accomplish and cannot forget to do.

I have templates that I use for each day of the week. These include the recurring tasks that happen on that day, like doing laundry on Tuesdays and going grocery shopping on Fridays. I wish that someone would make a calendar app that included recurring to do lists, but until then I just use a combination of Google Keep and a paper desk calendar. Seeing the things that need to be done means me conscious of time, because I know I don’t have any to waste if I’m going to accomplish everything on the list. Using a template helps me to develop a standard operating procedure, so that I can figure out ways to manage the extra tasks that fall on specific days without sacrificing the daily things that still have to get done.

The object is to actually get things done. The productivity system is a tool to help reach the goal, not the goal itself. If a list work for you, use it, no matter what the experts tell you. Just be sure to use if properly, with the right emphasis and a focus on accomplishing important things rather than justifying how you’ve filled the time.

Yesterday’s Word Count: 3735
Present Mood: Confident
Actively Reading: Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Thich Nhat Hanh
Background Music: Blackstar, David Bowie
Recently Watched: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Current Project: Untitled science fiction roleplaying game
Latest Release: Story Design: The Taboo

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One thought on “The Thermodynamics of To Do Lists

  1. I plan but don’t have fixed lists because things are too fluid in my life. Teaching distance learners I never know when they are going to need assistance, and eveything else has to be set aside if they do.. but there are other fixed things that also need to get done (like the daily scripture study) and other tasks that need doing but not necessarily today which fill up the rest of time after the ‘needed right now’ tasks have been completed. This all lives in my head, though, it never reaches paper!

    It’s important to find what works for you… and then to use it to effect. My method works for me, but I encourage students to figure out their own method.

    The bad news is, time flies. The good news is, you’re the pilot!

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