The endless ‘to do’ list

I keep my to do list in Franklin Covey Plan Plus, which I really like. But I’ve noticed that my to do list has never actually gotten any smaller. Whenever I seem to get it cleaned out and down to just a couple of items (things that, typically, I’m waiting on an outside party to complete), five more things spring up. Or ten. Or…

I read an article this week about to do lists that made me think about mine. The point of a to do list, the author wrote, is not to finish, but to prioritize.

This is rather profound, especially if you’re the kind of person that keeps an unordered list of the things you think of while driving around, talking on the phone, having breakfast, reading the paper, etc. That unordered list – is it really valuable, without any focus?

My planning software has a neat function built in, in that you can code items in the to do list. The default is A, B, C and 1, 2, 3. That is, an item coded A1 would be higher in priority than A2. And you can enter as many numbers or letters as you like.

I’ve mentally categorized my system like so:

  • A = work stuff that is client-related – tasks to complete or start or work on
  • B = business stuff that isn’t client-related, like office matters and insurance appointments
  • C = personal stuff (why is this one last? hmm?)

This seems to work well. But lately I’ve noticed that I’ve started throwing things into my list as just A’s, B’s or C’s, without numbers (or, with no priority).

This is a bad idea. I used to diligently number them, but it’s been so crazy busy the last few weeks I haven’t taken the time. One day this week I wound up with 11 A’s with no hint of the order I should try to work on them.

So… today I deemed my business cleanup day. I actually went through and got all my accounting in order (that is a major accomplishment for me) and started moving all my client data over into a new database. Both of those tasks have been on my list for months.

And I took a look at Plan Plus and put numbers on the A’s – all ten of them. Plan Plus is cool because it shows you the items in order, once you number them. Now I see what I need to do next, not just overwhelmingly what I have failed to finish all in a pile of A’s.

Does this mean that I’ll diligently follow through 1, 2, 3 in order? Nope. I just looked at the first item on the list and thought ‘this is Sunday, I’m not doing that for that client on a Sunday…’

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