Treating Your Todo List As One Task

Last year I had a truly spectacular todo list. It ranged from building a cabin on the island (with no idea how to do so), getting the floors replaced on a rental property in Las Vegas, a huge number of Cruisesheet bugs and fixes, work on a book, a few dozen emails, and then tens of random tasks that can’t fit in any one category.

This happens to a lot of us, especially as we expand too much and take on a lot of big important tasks. And it’s actually a pretty crummy place to be, as the psychic load of a big todo list is a major distraction.

The fundamental problem is that the items that cluster on a todo list tend to be the ones which are never urgent enough to warrant action. So we just keep dealing with more urgent things, and simultaneously accumulate more non-urgent tasks.

To get through this, you must treat “clearing your todo list” as a big urgent item, not because any one thing on it is urgent, but because having a big pending todo list is holding you back and affecting your more urgent tasks.

So clear a day and just start blasting away at the tasks. I usually start with the quickest things first. I used to just do the biggest or most important things first, but I found that doing the small quick things built up momentum and enthusiasm so quickly that it was more efficient to do things that way. I tend to mix those easy wins with more annoying tasks, so that the sweetness of quick progress masks the bitterness of dealing with listing a bunch of things on ebay.

If there’s stuff that I can’t do that day, I’ll set a deadline for it. For example, I’ll just promise myself that I’ll go to Home Depot to sort out the carpet situation the following day. Nothing gets to remain on the todo list. Everything gets cleared out, deadlined, or deleted (usually because it’s been on the list so long it’s no longer relevant).

We all have different preferences and tolerances, but I find this to be a reasonable way to manage my todo list. Usually I keep things in a steady state of being added and completed, but once in a while I have so many big things happening that my todo list gets out of control. Knowing that I have a track record of setting aside a day or two to churn through it makes me more comfortable doing that.


Photo is a plane flying low across the Danube in Budapest in preparation for the annual Air Race.

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