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How to Effectively Manage Your (Huge) Todo List

We live in hectic times. As information professionals we regularly have to battle overflowing email inboxes, monitor a flood of Tweets, craft attention-grabbing blog posts and on top of all that, remember to buy some milk on the way home.

I’ve developed a pretty effective methodology for making sure you stay focused on the important stuff. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s begin …

Organize Your Todos

The first thing you need to do is get all of your todos in one place. Gather them from all the various places you store them (sticky notes, notebooks, your brain, etc) and write them down in one place. I use Things, but anything will do (even pen and paper).

Once all your todos are in one place, group them into projects. Make sure to only use projects that you’re currently working on right now. Things that you’d like to do someday, but aren’t important at the moment should be filed away in a ‘Someday’ folder.

You’ll notice in the screengrab above that I’ve got ‘Active Projects’ and ‘Areas’. The basic difference is that Projects are discreet projects that will be finished at some point in the future, whereas Areas are general things that won’t ever be complete.

The Monday Morning Roundup

I wake up at 5am every Monday morning, stumble downstairs and fire up Things (my todo list program). I go through each of my ‘Projects’ and ‘Areas’ and tag things that need to be done this week with ‘This Week’. I also tag anything super important with ‘Important’.

When I’m done, I have a big list of things that need to be done this week. I then select about five of them that are tagged with both ‘This Week’ and ‘Important’ and I put them in the ‘Today’ list.

I repeat this each day, moving a few items from ‘This week’ to ‘Today’.

The key to the ‘Morning Roundup’ is that it’s done in a quiet place where you can concentrate on what’s really important. This is why I do it at 5am. My wife and 14 month old son are fast asleep and the house is absolutely quiet – it’s perfect for focusing and determing what’s really important.

Another benefit of this ‘quiet time’ is that it gives me some time to examine my life and ask questions like “Am I being a good father and husband?”, “What’s the big picture for where Carsonified is heading?”, “Am I happy with where my life is heading?” etc. We all need time to reflect on stuff like this – and it has to be done before the hectic activity of day-to-day life sets in.

Evil Email

The biggest killer to your productivity is email. Here’s the trick to making sure you don’t get sucked into the email blackhole:

Don’t check your email until you’ve ticked off at least two important things on your ‘Today’ list.

This is vital to making sure you don’t get distracted by what other people deem to be important for you.

As a wise man once said: “Your inbox is a todo list that anyone in the world can write to.”

Of course, if your boss emails you and asks for something to be done ASAP, then it’s best to listen. However, most everything else can wait until you knock out a few of your todos. This will leave you feeling refreshed and empowered.

A great tip is to tell your co-workers that if they need you to do anything urgently, then calling you is the best option, as you only check email occasionally.

Summary Tips

To sum up, here are few vital takeaway pionts:

  1. Spend time every Monday morning to organize and prioritize your todos for the upcoming week. You have to do this before you get into the office and everyone starts asking for your attention.
  2. Organize and prioritize your todos for the day before you do anything else.
  3. Knock out at least two todos before checking email.

Good luck! Please share any tips you have in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

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