The Secret of Today Versus Todo

I didn’t do much yesterday.  In fact, I only got five things done.

Really, I went to work and only completed five tasks.  You probably think I am joking, but I am not.  You may be wondering if my employer should be concerned.

But, here is the secret: While I had a todo list a hundred miles long, I completed the five things that I had designated as most important and must get done today.

“I did the five right things yesterday.”

Today Versus Todo

I believe that you should keep only one todo List, and that it should be as simple as possible.

Some get bogged down in next actions, contexts, start dates, end dates, @ symbols, and more.  Instead, here is what I do…

At the top of my todo list, I draw a line under the top few items that I designate as my Today List.  These are the items on my todo list that must get done today.  They are non-negotiable and take priority over everything else.   (You can do this in an electronic format too…by “starring” or marking your Today items.)

That is it.  No need to waste time with color coding, or priorities from A to Z.  In fact, you can reclaim that time to get stuff done.

Today Matters

As I work through my day, I ensure that I keep my todo list visible and my today items are always at the top.

I recommend that you start small.  Perhaps, only 3 “must do” items each day.

“Three!?,” I hear you say.  That is nothing.  But trust me, until you consistently knock out your Today List, keep it simple.

Remember, these are suppose to be “must do” items.  They take precedence over all others.  So, even once you are very proficient, you will still only have a handful each day.  Your overall todo list is still your master tracker of all the things you need to do.

What Did You Get Done Today?

Some days you will obliterate your Today List.  You will get all of it done, and many things done on your overall todo list, as well.  It will feel great.

Other days, you will only get a few of your today items done.  Even though you set out to get them done “no matter what,” things will come up that stop you from your mission.  Perhaps, emergencies that were even higher priority than your list.

You can evaluate at the end of the day what kept you from finishing.  However, you can take pride in knowing that you concentrated on the most important things on your list.

Yesterday, I went 5 for 5 on my Today List.  Not bad for a batting average.  How did you do?

How do you ensure you get your Today Items done each day?

Related Posts:

The Power of 1

Is Your Todo List a Black Hole of Productivity?

Kill the Tasks, Not the Todo List

No time for time management? Check out my online course designed to jump start your productivity! Take it online on your time and pace. As well, get direct access to me for advice and questions. Get details or enroll now by clicking here!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Avette

    I love your article! I have been using FranklinCovey Software to help me with my todo list. That way I can keep it on me all the time! Check it out at http://www.franklincoveysoftware.com.

  • Rob

    How exactly do you use Franklin Covey Software to manage your to do list?
    I've just been looking at and I can't see any way to manage todo lists with the software that aren't completely confusing. I think “Things” (for MAC) is still the best GTD software around. Businesses looking for a way to manage to do lists should check out;

    http://www.timedoctor.com

  • http://webmeister.me daveferrick

    I'm a proponent for both having one to-do list and only doing 3-5 things a day. I use 1 list in RTM for all my tasks and don't tie any due dates or priorities to them when entering. Then in the evening I choose 3 items from that list and assign them as due tomorrow. And there's my to-do list for tomorrow. (Also I use the RTM widget on my Droid to show only items due today but a post-it note works just as well)

  • http://www.jennszen.com Jennifer

    I do a similar thing. I use OmniFocus to put “all” of my todos in so I have a master list. Then In Evernote, I have a To Do Today list. I put my top 4 to 5 things I must to at the top and a grouping of things that would be awesome if had time to finish. Evernote is awesome because it syncs with my phone automatically, so I'm never without my list. :)

  • http://www.timemanagementninja.com Craig Jarrow

    I used OmniFocus once upon a time. Somehow moved on from it. Like the master list. :)

    I love Evernote. And yes, the sync with iPhone & iPad is awesome!

  • http://www.timemanagementninja.com Craig Jarrow

    The idea of designating just a few items each day to be done is very powerful.

    I once worked with a senior executive who carried his five things to do each day on a 3×5 notecard. That was his Today list each day.

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  • antonia

    This was a phenomenal entry. It is the crucial thing I needed to think about and incorporate into my daily task regimen. I use a very well-designed, full-featured to do app on my iPod Touch, but I found myself spending more time fiddling with the app than doing the tasks. I also have been overwhelmed by massively long lists, long scrolling lists, of undone tasks. Most of them are low priority…some are just fun activities (what’s with that? Don’t turn fun or hobby stuff into *tasks*–how dreadful). But what I need to do is exactly what you advise– get the focus on the 5 things that need to be done today.

    Indeed, I will start with the 3 things as you so smartly suggest.

    Similarly, for my calendar, where alerts pop up all the time of things to do, I am addicted to the Snooze button. But all that does is to put off the tasks, then I get nagged, again and again, and all that does is make one feel unproductive, even stressed out!

    For that, I finally figured out that I need to attend to the tasks when the alert pops up. Otherwise, why did I put it into the calendar and at a particular time?

    I am hoping that combining your 5 tasks idea, with my attend to it right away notion, that I will start to accomplish things and do so more efficiently and happily. (As Aristotle pointed out, happiness is quite different from pleasure.)

    First, of course, I have to launch that to do app and figure out its Star and special list system so that I can use it to identify the key tasks of the day. That should take me much of the day, playing around with it, having fun, and not getting any tasks done! :-)

    Oh, well. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll finally get to the tasks I should be doing! :-)

  • antonia

    This was a phenomenal entry. It is the crucial thing I needed to think about and incorporate into my daily task regimen. I use a very well-designed, full-featured to do app on my iPod Touch, but I found myself spending more time fiddling with the app than doing the tasks. I also have been overwhelmed by massively long lists, long scrolling lists, of undone tasks. Most of them are low priority…some are just fun activities (what’s with that? Don’t turn fun or hobby stuff into *tasks*–how dreadful). But what I need to do is exactly what you advise– get the focus on the 5 things that need to be done today.

    Indeed, I will start with the 3 things as you so smartly suggest.

    Similarly, for my calendar, where alerts pop up all the time of things to do, I am addicted to the Snooze button. But all that does is to put off the tasks, then I get nagged, again and again, and all that does is make one feel unproductive, even stressed out!

    For that, I finally figured out that I need to attend to the tasks when the alert pops up. Otherwise, why did I put it into the calendar and at a particular time?

    I am hoping that combining your 5 tasks idea, with my attend to it right away notion, that I will start to accomplish things and do so more efficiently and happily. (As Aristotle pointed out, happiness is quite different from pleasure.)

    First, of course, I have to launch that to do app and figure out its Star and special list system so that I can use it to identify the key tasks of the day. That should take me much of the day, playing around with it, having fun, and not getting any tasks done! :-)

    Oh, well. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll finally get to the tasks I should be doing! :-)

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  • Tracey

    Thanks for the input.  I struggle with huge lists and how to tame them.  I have a question, though.  You said that when you star tasks they end up in your Today list, but I can’t seem to make that happen.  When I star tasks, they do go in my starred list, but unfortunately I can’t change the order of those on my iPhone to take a good, sorted by priority, list with me.  Am I missing something?

    • TMNinja

      @Tracey When you “Star” items, they go to the top of the individual list they are on. And they are added to the “Starred” list. You are correct that on the phone, you cannot currently re-order that list. (although you can on the desktop) Hopefully, this is something that will be added soon.

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  • http://www.dominatuvida.com/ Organizar la Vida.

    It´s a simple way to make things happend. I have prove a lot of thecnics and the one that has worked best for me is like the one you are saying, I write in my agenda the night before the thinks that I have to do the next day, so the next day I have allready make my list. 

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  • http://www.zenfly.co.uk/ Zenfly Media

    Today list!

  • http://www.zenfly.co.uk/ Zenfly Media

    today List!

  • Sital Chouhan

    I have been using hours tracking tool from Replicon ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/hours-tracking-software.aspx ) for the time management, todo management and also the project management at a specific stage.