To Do, Or Not To Do

Before we dive in today, I would like to express my gratitude and make a request.

I am incredibly grateful for all your support. I appreciate how many of you have shared that you read this blog weekly and find my insights valuable. Last week the blog reached a milestone with its 1,000th LinkedIn subscriber. I am proud to add a fourth digit to my humble following! Thank you.

Second, my request. For context (as every well-formed request should include), I have some exciting ideas about how I can increase my contribution to the world. To bring these dreams to fruition, I need to expand my reach. Please consider sharing my blog with everyone you know who might benefit from it, encourage them to subscribe, and follow me on LinkedIn by:

  • Sharing the link to the blog,
  • forwarding the email (if you receive it via email), or
  • reposting any blog post to your LinkedIn network with a comment encouraging people to follow or subscribe.*

You can do this now or at any time in the future when a post strikes you as relevant to people in your network. Thank you in advance for helping me positively impact as many people as possible.

To Do, Or Not To Do

I talk to many people who say they struggle with prioritization. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks on their plate. In those cases, my blank sheet of paper exercise can be very effective. In other cases, choosing the right task to work on is a struggle. They get to the end of the day, look at where they spent their time, and feel like they worked on the wrong things.

A single, centralized task list is an essential productivity tool usually missing in these instances.

The Task Free-For-All

Take a moment and reflect on the different places where you accumulate tasks. Some may be physical – a pad of paper on your desk, post-it notes on your monitor, items written on a whiteboard, or a pile of unopened mail. Others may be virtual – emails, Slack messages, text messages, voicemails, and thoughts swirling around your head.

What do you work on if you have two hours of undisturbed, productive time and live in a task free-for-all as described above? What are the chances you’ll work on the most important thing? For many of us, that environment encourages us to put off the important work that is hard and go after low-hanging fruit or whatever is in front of our faces (like an overflowing email inbox).

To wrestle this free-for-all to the ground, you need to adopt a single, centralized task list.

The Centralized Task List

I’ve mentored and coached on this subject for over fifteen years. One thing I’ve learned about the task list is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. People have different styles, and you must choose the right tool for you. Here are some possible tools:

  • Todoist app ( this is what I use and generally recommend)
  • Microsoft To Do
  • Google Tasks
  • A note in OneNote or Evernote
  • A Word document/Google Doc
  • An Excel spreadsheet/Google Sheet
  • A physical planner or journal, such as a Franklin Planner
  • A pad of paper or notebook

At the start of my career, I began with a Franklin Planner, and I loved it. Today, I wouldn’t dream of doing this in a handwritten form. If you don’t have a system that works already, I suggest you start with Todoist, which you can access on your computer and smartphone.

Building Your Task List

Give yourself an hour or two to consolidate your task free-for-all and get them into your centralized task list. It will be worth the investment of your time. Once that is done, update your daily planning checklist to include reviewing and consolidating tasks from those sources as part of your daily planning process so that at least once a day, anything new that crops up gets into the master list.

Todoist has four priority levels (1-4). I like this structure and recommend adopting it for whatever system you use. Some tools like Microsoft To Do or Google Tasks don’t offer this granularity. I define the priorities as follows:

  • Priority 1 – Must get done today/critically important
  • Priority 2 – Must get done within the next few days/important
  • Priority 3 – Has a deadline, but it’s more than a few days out/not high importance.
  • Priority 4 – No deadline/low-priority

Each morning in my daily planning, once I’ve consolidated all my tasks into Todoist, I review and update the priorities if needed. Then I build my plan for the day, focusing on any Priority 1 tasks.

When I have a block of productive time, if I’m not sure what to work on, I go to my task list and look at the Priority 1s. I resist the urge to tackle an appealing Priority 2 item which may be more fun or less effort since it’s a lower priority.

In my weekly review, I take a bit more time to review my task list more thoroughly, updating priorities, deleting things that are no longer worth doing, and thinking through what to do about those items that never seem to get my attention and out of Priority 3 or 4.

Advanced Todoist Techniques

I could do an entire blog on Todoist. If I see enough interest in the comments, I may create a dedicated post or even a course. Once you get comfortable with it, here are some more advanced techniques.

  • Create repeating tasks for things you do on a recurring basis.
  • Create sub-tasks to take a significant task and break it down into manageable components.
  • Set up filters to help you focus. I have a “Priority 1” filter to hide anything that isn’t Priority 1 to avoid distraction. I also have filters that allow me to limit the view only to work tasks when I’m working and only home tasks when I’m “off the clock.”
  • Explore Todoist’s “Karma” feature and be proud of your achievements as you level up.

Putting It Into Practice

Here are some action steps to get a centralized task list in place:

  • Select a tool (I recommend Todoist)
  • Consolidate all of your tasks into that single tool
  • Prioritize your tasks (Priority 1, 2, 3, or 4)
  • Use a daily planning ritual or another mechanism to maintain your task list regularly
  • Any time you are about to do productive work, consult your task list to make sure you are working on the highest-priority item

Schedule time with Josh.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

* If you want to repost an older blog post, consult my Top Ten posts of 2022. And as predicted in that post, All You Need is Love has now cracked the top ten.