To do lists are critical to making sure the things that matter in your work and in your life get done. Well, mostly done. Sometimes. Okay, maybe just occasionally.
Seriously, the problem with most to do list is that we throw so much on them that we put ourselves in position of having no hope of sticking to them. We either find ourselves overwhelmed and instead spend time on the “busywork” that really doesn’t move us forward as much as we’d like or we take one look at the list in its entirety and decide that we’re better off just to fly by the seat of our pants than refer to it. A to do list gone unchecked can become more paralyzing than tantalizing.
Yet the reason we make these lists is because we do have a lot to do. We have things that we need to get done at the office, things that we need to get done while were on the road, things that we need to do when we’re at home, and things that we would like to do someday (maybe). Fact is that we need to make sure that we have some kind of separator — a qualifier if you will — that allows us to focus on the right things at the right time. Those identifiers are the “why” for every “what” that we have on our to do lists. They add value and meaning to the tasks that they are attached to, and when we have more value and meaning attached to something we have a tendency to want to work on it that much more.
Adding context to your tasks for real value
One of the best ways to add real value to your to do list is to use a task management solution that features the use of contexts, tags, or (in the case of Todoist) labels. Each of these essentially can be endowed with a similar definition: something you attach to a task that adds value or meaning to it. In the traditional GTD methodology, as created by David Allen, these value-adds are most often associated with a location of some sort. That’s all well and good if you are able to use a business mindset for every aspect of your life, but if you aren’t wired that way then using locations may not be the thing that adds more meaning to your tasks. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use location as a value-add (for example Todoist supports multiple labels per task, so you can actually use location and something else to add value to your tasks if you want), means that that might not be the thing that spurs you to action.
A new take on labels
One of the labels I attach to tasks are based on energy levels. I can look at my to do list and then look inward and figure out how I’m feeling at any given moment. If I’m feeling rundown or sick, I’ll be more likely to tackle tasks that have been labeled with “low energy” then to take on tasks that I’ve labeled “high energy.” I’ve also used labels that are associated with a particular passion from time to time. If I am in the mood to write, I will look at all of the tasks that I’ve labeled “writing” and start there. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to name some tasks after ideas for articles and then just endowed them with the label “writing” in order to create a bit of an “idea incubator” within my to do list. The label “writing” has a lot of meaning to me because, well, I’m a writer. Anything that is labeled with that value-add really resonates with me and keeps me connected to why i’m doing all of this work in the first place.
If you want to get moving on the things that are really important to you, then having a simple to do list isn’t enough. You need to find a way to add more value and more meaning to those items on your list so that you can make measured progress on the right things in your work and your life. We’re not supposed to check off all the boxes — we can’t possibly do that. As David Allen says, “You can do anything, but not everything.” The best way we can try to do the things that really matter is by making sure that they stand out on our to do lists. That’s why using tags, contacts, or labels is essential. They are the things that will help you stop doing productive and start being productive.
About the Author
Mike Vardy is a writer, speaker, productivity specialist, and the founder of Productivityist. He has served as the Managing Editor at Lifehack, and contributed articles on productivity to 99u, Lifehacker, The Next Web, SUCCESS Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Mike is also the author of several books, including The Front Nine: How To Start The Year You Want Anytime You Want, and has delivered talks on the topic of task and time management at events like New Media Expo, TEDx Victoria, SXSW Interactive, and creativeLIVE. He lives in Victoria, BC, Canada with his incredible wife, daughter, and son.