For a long time I’ve been a pretty poor to-do list manager. As far back as high school, I can remember struggling with tracking things I needed to get done. I think I’ve tried every strategy known to man: ABC/123 lists on notepads, checklists in Day Timer books, tasks on Post-It notes, electronic lists in my computer, task “appointments” in my electronic calendar, and I even attended a Franklin Day Planner seminar in the early 90s. I lugged around a bulky Franklin planner for several years. It looked impressive, but I never mastered the to-do list.
There have been a variety of reasons various techniques haven’t worked for me. I’ve never had work where I sit at one spot all the time, so whatever method I use had to be portable. Paper-based methods were always the worst for me because I spent more time maintaining the lists than I seemed to spend on the tasks themselves. Home-grown electronic tools (lists and charts in spreadsheets or documents) always became overwhelming for me as the list grew in size. (There is just so much to get done!) Those strategies were hard to organize, too. I needed a way to look at just my household tasks, or just my church tasks, or just tasks for my clients, etc.
Actually, I have heard of these and I have tried them. I think the first one I tried was Wunderlist. My brother Mark lauded Any.do and I gave that a shot. I eventually had a trial run with Todoist based on the endorsement of one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies. I tried a few others in the process, too.
These apps are certainly portable and convenient. (They are a tremendous improvement over the pre-smartphone era!) They have the power to organize and sort types of tasks (for home vs work, as an example). They are free. (That’s always great!) They keep the lists organized rather automatically so that I don’t spend time maintaining the structure of the tasks.
Eventually, though, I gave up on each one. I didn’t keep the tasks updated so I didn’t stick with it.
And it frustrated me tremendously.
I couldn’t figure out why these wonderful tools didn’t solve my problem with keeping tasks organized. Several people I admire and trust swore by them. Based on what they said, these apps were almost life changing! (That’s overstating it just a bit.)
Looking at my issue a little more carefully, I discovered two things:
- The number of people succeeding with these task tools is actually in the very small minority. Most people still wrestle with written lists and usually do it poorly. So I wasn’t alone in this. (That made me feel less like a failure.)
- I was missing the point on why I failed at adopting one of these apps.
What I failed to see is that converting my task management work over to an app is a rather significant behavioral change. I was trying to overcome years of habit and dysfunctional strategies in a matter of a few hours. This is because my method for going about this behavioral change had been to go “cold turkey” and attempt to instantly manage absolutely everything in life through that one tool.
I would gather all my notepads, journal pages, Post-It notes, calendar items, etc., and plop it all into the app in one shot.
In short, I wanted the app to manage my brain for me!
Bad strategy. It was a recipe for failure. And I did.
Several weeks ago, I gave it another shot. I installed Todoist on my phone and bookmarked it on my computers. And I started small.
I identified one project to track in the system. One. Nothing else.
Tracking one project helped me to learn Todoist’s features and to begin that process of modifying small chunks of my behavior.
Eventually I become comfortable with the system and added another project. Todoist allows you to separate tasks by project, so this enabled me to learn another aspect of the software, too.
Then an interesting thing happened. I began to look forward to opening Todoist each morning to explore the day’s task list. I started to enjoy clicking the button that magically made the task disappear when complete (it gets archived). And then I began to add more and more projects and personal tasks, too.
Todoist has a clever “karma” feature that gives you points for completing tasks on time. The points don’t mean anything, but I assure you I want to earn more points and move to the next “award” level.
So, it’s working! I’m successfully managing my to-do list on a daily basis using one tool!
Confession: I’m still not perfect with task management. As I pause and think for a moment, I can name several tasks that are not yet started and/or overdue. That, though, is largely due to another problem—trying to do too much. (See How to Stop Spinning Plates.)
- All leaders have tasks to manage.
- The most effective leaders are really good at it.
I’m confident I am now improving in my ability to manage tasks. I’m becoming a more effective leader.
How about you?
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.