Writing it down is good, doing it is better

Categories hack, productivity, Working smart

Either you run the day or the day runs you.

Jim Rohn

I always try to sell the “write down everything that you need to do” mantra to everybody.

It’s not just because it works for me, it’s because it works for everybody I ever worked with, everybody I asked and just about every productivity book I ever read mentioned it.

The mantra is very simple:

  • I use a piece of paper (usually a page in my notebook – paper notebook smart-ass) to create a list of things TODO
  • If I get a new task, I write it down
  • If during my work I realize that there is something else that I must do to accomplish the task, I write it down
  • If during my work I think about something that must be done later on and hope that I don’t forget, I write it down
  • When I do it, I scratch it off the list as being – you guessed it – DONE

You might be thinking “this douche is trying to sell us the TODO list crap” – and you’re right, that’s what I’m doing.

You would be amazed at the number of people who are actually trying to remember (with their actual meaty mushy forgetful minds ) the things that they need to do during an entire day – even an entire week, so the list thing… well, let’s say that it needs a good refresh from time to time.

You would also be amazed at how much a piece of paper and a pen used – religiously – as a TODO list and actually followed on a daily basis could increase your productivity. You should try it. Screw Outlook reminders and other RememberTheMilk simulacrum – try using a real piece of paper and a pen, and really scratch the hell out of a task when you’re done. You’ll feel a lot better.

Although this seems to be the direct that this post is heading, it’s not about using TODO lists, nor even about prioritizing them (although it would be a good subject) – it’s more about knowing when not to use them.

Let’s say that you’ve been using TODO lists for a while now. It’s really working for you. You’re burning two A4 sheets a day with your tasks, passing the unfinished tasks on a new list each morning. Handling it, feeling the DONE thrill every time you scratch something off.

Then you start to notice something. Some really simple, really small tasks seem to remain on your list for more than one day, maybe two, maybe even a week. And when you finally get to them you realize that those tasks were under 10 minute tasks. Some of them were even important, or could have brought a benefit, or even a favor. So this is what this post is about.

It happened to me awhile ago (a couple of years to be exact – and yes, this is a revived draft, I tend to do this often lately) so I made this little habit of asking a few questions before writing it down:

Will it take more than 5 minutes?

If it will take more than 5 minutes – write it down. If it’s faster than that just do it – and save Mother Earth.

Are you doing something so important that if you deviate for 5 minutes it will be context switching?

If it will throw you off, write it down and do it later.

Can you do it in the middle of the current task, as a short mental break?

From time to time I need to clear my head of whatever nasty thing I’m working on and I found that (besides taking a walk around the office building) handling a short unrelated task clears my mind.

Can you delegate it?

If it can be delegated – write it down – and email it. Maybe have a quick chat about it.

Do you really need to do it? 

Think about this: maybe you don’t really have to do it. Is it really necessary?

I hope this helps you as much as it helps me.

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