To-do lists are great…except for that bottomless-pit part that you never get to.

How many things are on your to-do list that have been there for days, months or years?

There’s a reason for that, and here’s how to fix it…

Timing the Tasks

Everything on your list takes a different amount of time.

Some things take a couple minutes (by the way, those shouldn’t be on your list; you should just do them…right now), while other things take hours or days to complete.

However, you don’t want to spend more time timing your tasks than they take to complete…so what do you do?

Simple.  Ditch the traditional to-do list and start using a schedule.  Don’t spend more than a few seconds timing the tasks.  Simply estimate how long you think something will take and start scheduling.

Parkinson’s Law will come into effect for most things.  For the other things, you may just have to be wrong about the initial time you think it will take…that’s fine, you can schedule the rest of it later.  The idea is to get everything on your calendar.

A Modern To-Do List

The days are gone when productivity experts thought it was a good idea to keep a long list of to-dos.

Now a to-do list means something else.

Listen carefully:  a to-do list should only exist as a holding area of tasks waiting to be dropped into your schedule.

If you work merely from a to-do list, there is no estimated time involved, and more importantly, no estimate of when the task will get done.  When you work with a schedule, you know exactly when you’re going to get to your tasks.

How to Schedule With “Next Actions”

Your to-do list may be too small.  And that will mess up your schedule.  Here’s what I mean…

Once you start transferring your to-do list to your schedule, you’ll begin to realize that you didn’t include everything that needed to be included.  This is where David Allen’s Next Action principle comes in.

David puts it like this: “First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.”  Think of your collection bucket as your to-do list.

David goes on to say: “Most often, the reason something is “on your mind” is that you want it to be different than it currently is, and yet: you haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcomes is; you haven’t decided what the very next physical action step is; and/or you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust. That’s why it’s on your mind.”

Think about it like this, when you schedule a task, make sure you’re scheduling everything you need to do.  Obviously if you’re scheduling a computer task, you don’t need to include turning the computer on.  But if you’re using a laptop to do the computer task, and your laptop is at a friend’s house, the next action would be to go get your laptop, not to do the computer task.  So you would schedule getting the laptop first.

This is often what messes up your schedule.  You schedule an hour for something, and it takes you 45 minutes to get set up to complete the task.  These time-consuming things must be scheduled.

Once you get the hang of next actions and scheduling, your life will go much more smoothly.

The Bottom Line

Stop to-doing and start scheduling.

Take a good look at your to-do list today and start moving the tasks into your schedule.  Google Calendar works well.

It’s hard to find time to accomplish tasks without a schedule.  What gets scheduled gets done.  Period.

For more on to-do lists and this system, check out my other post: How to Clear Your To-Do List Today.

For more on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, read the book.