15 Jan


Mariana Saturansky

The (feared) To-Do List


Being productive starts with a list. Nobody will deny it. Every single person who writes or has an opinion on the matter will tell you so.

Then why don’t we all have a to-do list of our own? Why aren’t we all the kings and Queens of productiveness? Why are we reading all these “productivity” articles?

Because we do it wrong.

The first approach we have is to sit down with pen and paper and write a list. We are so proud of ourselves and we think this is the small first step up on the ladder of success. But then you look down and read what you “have to do” buy groceries, call mom, do the dishes. You just wrote down things you were going to do anyway (and if you don’t call your mother, you know she will call you).

Well now you have a to-do list, what are you going to do with it? Two possible destinations either pin it to the fridge (so you can only see it when you are hungry/thirsty) or put it in your backpack/briefcase/purse (also known as “the void”).

The list is just a tool. Like a hammer. If you try to open a can with a hammer you can either fail or make a mess. Either way is not the Hammer’s fault.

So, how can you make it work?

First of all, writing a to-do list is not a task itself. You are not supposed to sit down and write a list. But you need to have one, or two. Have a list for your personal projects not work related, then another one for work related projects.

Where should I create/keep my list?

Well, this is not an independent blog, or Harvard university press… What do you expect me to say? Use the To-do list in your tracking time app, of course.

Organize your main projects

Such as Work and Personal, then start listing tasks. You don’t have to do this in advance. Do it while at it. Let’s say I have my work list and I am writing an article about the to-do list (sorry for the inception-like example).

  • I should go to my list, and create a task such as “article about to do list”.
    One of the things that may happen is that I realize that I could also write an article on How to use the to-do list in the app, so…
  • I go back to my list and add that task, then continue writing.
    The other thing that may happen is that I start to think of this article with some useful images, so…
  • I go back to my list and write down “add images to the article”. But oh! That is a task inside of the other task!
  • I notice that I can make a list of which images I want in the portion of the article while at it. That is a task inside a task, inside a task! I’ve just created my own Task-Matrioshka. What I actually did is something you may have read about: break big tasks into smaller tasks.
  • I can also add tasks such as grammar revision.

I have to complete each task on the list, and suddenly my article is finished, and all the ideas I came up with while doing it are organized in a way that I only have to look at my list to see what to do next. But the most important thing is: I feel like the most productive and organized person in the world.