Getting Our To-Do List Right

In an attempt to better organize my workflow, I signed up for a free Wunderlist account. Wunderlist is a to-do list app accessible on your desktop and smartphone; it’s suppose to help you get stuff done through sharing and assigning to-do items with coworkers and sending out reminders about due dates. It’s suppose to help you prioritize and categorize the things you want to get done. It’s well-designed and gives you lots of options. I abandoned it within a week.

For years I’ve kept a small $10 Moleskine reporter’s notebook with me to jot down notes and ideas, and yes, my to-dos. I make lists and cross things out and make new lists based on old lists with those crossed out items. It’s messy and certainly not sleek, but, as some say, there is a method to the madness; I get my work done.

Seth Porges writes in Bloomberg about how so many of us write our to-do lists the wrong way. He agrees that hand-writing our lists is the way to go because it’s likely that the physical act of writing helps us memorize our tasks. He doesn’t mention this, but the act of crossing something out when it’s completed is also very satisfying.

Porges notes that we should also break large tasks into smaller ones, and get specific (i.e. instead of “call mom,” write, “call mom and remind her about updating her will”).

All good, reasonable tips, though I would argue with Porges that the only “wrong way” to write a to-do list is the way that doesn’t work for you. Some of us love productivity apps like Wunderlist. Some of us swear by GTD. Some of us love a pen and paper or post-its or ink scrawled out on the back of our hands. The only way to figure out what works is to try everything and see what sticks.

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