Is Your Todo List a Blank Slate?

How do you start your todo list?

Many people begin with a fresh piece of paper.

If so, how do you know what you did yesterday?

Better yet, what was left undone?

Is your todo list a blank slate each and every day?

The Blank Slate

I once worked with a manager that would start each day by stopping my office to ask what he could work on that day.

He was a hard charger, but he had an interesting time management habit with his todo list.

His task list was a yellow legal pad.  He carried it everywhere with him.  (Good start!)

However, he would start each day by ripping off the top pages and the previous day’s list would go right in the trash.

Each day he started with a blank slate.

I would ask him, “What about yesterday’s list?”

He didn’t seem worried. He was only concerned with today.

While I liked his candor and drive, I had a hard time believing that he was not leaving loose ends untied.

Can you truly be productive by simply starting over each day?

Starting at Zero

This manager was living in the now. He was living a very reactionary life and dealing with things only as they came his way.

Inevitably, uncompleted tasks from the past would come back to haunt him and cause even more work for him.

This is one reason why it is so important to check your todo list each and every day.

When you don’t maintain your todo list, you bring unnecessary complications to your life…

  • Life Friction – By not reviewing your todo list, you are causing self-inflicted life friction. You are bringing chaos into your life in the form of late tasks and undone work.
  • Driftwood – Simply reacting to what life throws your way means that you are living as driftwood floating down the river of life. You are not choosing your own path or priorities.
  • More Work – Tasks left undone will actually create more work for you.  Late tasks and tasks that are left to rot often come back with a vengeance at a later time.

Review It Regularly

Reviewing your todo list daily helps keep you on track. It keep priorities in check. And it makes sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Here are a few benefits of regularly maintaining your todo list:

  1. Keeps Priorities First – By reviewing yesterday, you know what is still on your list.  This is important so you can filter and prioritize what you should be doing.
  2. Moves Things Forward – It is important to move undone tasks forward. This ensures that you have not forgotten something important on your list and prevents things from being forgotten.
  3. Completes Things – Checking things off your list is important.  Not only does it give you a status of your progress, but also a sense of accomplishment that can drive your productivity.
  4. Deletes the Unnecessary – Often we will find things on our list that did not belong there. We add things that we later realize are not our responsibility or not worth doing.  Deleting tasks off your lists is an important exercise and can free up your time.
  5. Keeps You Ahead – When you look at your todo list regularly, you not only get done what needs to be done now, but you also see what is coming your way.  You can stay ahead of deadlines and prevent todos from being late.

Start Fresh, But Not Over

It is important to make your todo list each day.

Determining what you need to do today is important. However, let’s not do it with a blind eye to what is still on our plate from yesterday.

Don’t start your day with a blank slate.

Live for today, but don’t forget yesterday.

How do you start your todo list? How do you ensure tasks are not forgotten?

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  • RobertWall

    Great post!

    What’s particularly interesting to me is that the manager would ask the question each day. I would think that somebody on a management level would be more interested in a view at least a week out, if not a month.

    I would think that not being able to deal with future-dated stuff would be at least as big of a problem as not being able to move uncompleted past tasks forward.

    Thanks for giving me some things to think about – have a great day!

    • TMNinja

      @RobertWall Thanks! And BTW, was not saying that this manager was “on top of his game.” :)

      Good point about future tasks. I think a lot of people have issues with future (down the road) tasks, as well.

  • http://www.smarterlifeblog.com marcoricci

    Hi Craig,
    Adjusting my daily task-list is the first thing I do after sitting at my desk: this lets me take care of undone tasks from the previous days.
    I noted that very often undone tasks are a result of other people being involved in their execution. Working in a social environment, flexibility is a prerequisite for every time management method or tool: we simply can’t control everything (planning is guessing).

    • TMNinja

      @marcoricci Agreed! That is the first thing to start my day, too.

      Many times we are waiting for others to close out tasks, all the more reason to make sure they are not forgotten. :)

  • AJR

    To do lists are the bane of my life – it’s not easy to get this right and find a method that works for me as an individual! This is very interesting and goes towards a theory I have in the back of my mind that I should keep a master todo list, and pluck ‘today’s’ tasks from that – this would allow me to keep a record and be satisfied when I have completed my list for the day. Hvaing said that I guess there are always tasks to add to the current days list!

  • GiuseppeRoncari
  • GiuseppeRoncari