I’m guessing the content of this post won’t be news to most folks, but it helped me so much I wanted to write it down.
Sometime in April I was chatting with Andy Kim, of Potion Factory and The Hit List fame, over IM and I asked him how he, a one-man shop producing some awesome stuff (both code and design work), got things done. His advice was pretty simple: Always make sure you know what to do next. I’m convinced that advice, along with a lot of other things, helped make the next three months extremely productive for me.
This really wasn’t anything new. I’m sure I had heard this before, but hearing it from Andy was apparently just enough to make me actually try it for reals and experience it for myself.
It wasn’t long before I noticed how serious the change was. If I either didn’t have my “to do today” (more on that later) list available, or I had let myself finish everything without adding to it, I would almost immediately procrastinate when a task was done. However, when I crossed something out, if there was another task to pickup and do right there without me having to think about ‘what now?’, I almost always immediately got to it. So simple.
How I manage my lists
I use two list systems. One for my to do today list, and one for planning at a larger level. The to do today list is paper based. I carry a small Moleskine squared notebook for this list. My other lists are stored in The Hit List organized into folders and releases and stuff like that. Every morning I scan my lists in The Hit List and write stuff down in my to do today list. I put a large square to start each item and then write the task next to it. When I complete a task I put a check in the box and strike out the words. If I decide to not do something, I use an X and strike out the words. This has worked great for me.
If I notice my to do today list getting small, and I know I have a lot of available time left in the day, I try to make sure I re-scan The Hit List for things to add. This is because I know if the list is empty before I’m done working for the day I’ll find myself watching YouTube videos of babies laughing or on Wikipedia reading about a Country I’ll never visit.
More on To Do Today
Concentrate was heavily inspired by a productivity method called The Pomodoro Technique. Part of that technique involves a To Do Today list. You pick from your larger list and put down what you think you can do today. The technique also has you estimate tasks and some other stuff that I don’t do, but are probably worth checking out. The Pomodoro Technique gave me the idea for the to do today list vs. working off one master list. I highly recommend it. Being able to look at a, relatively, much smaller list makes a huge difference compared to staring at your endless list for a project.
Feel free to drop a comment here with your own take on this. I’d be curious if others are using a to do today list or if you try it and how it worked for you. Good luck!