My proven time and task management system explained

For 30 years I have been an avid student and practitioner of time management systems, planning approaches, productivity software, and mental approaches. It’s mostly to help me manage my procrastination and distraction tendencies, which I fight every day. More than most people, I think.

I actually have read and re-read books on this. Tried hundreds of approaches and software tools.

I was pretty fanatic about it, but now I just have a few simple systems that still work and I don’t overthink it.

So, after 30+ years of trying every approach, here’s my daily to-do list system. You might find something useful here.

1) I handwrite my to-do list every day, including weekends.

2) I have longer lists of quarterly plans and objectives for my business and personal worlds where I capture everything and sort it out. A modified Getting Things Done approach.

3) Up top with circles are the 4-6 big things I want to get done today. Important and sometimes urgent. They take 30-90 minutes of my time and most of them aren’t on my calendar. A modified Pomodoro Technique (time box) approach.

4) Below the line are the 4-6 little things I want to get done today. Follow-ups, admin, tech twiddling, big emails to write or review, stuff to research.

5) Below that are my personal things to do. One big Thing and a few little things. I try to do one big personal thing every day that I could easily procrastinate. Exercise at the gym or do a project at home.

6) I don’t schedule todos on my calendar and I don’t put scheduled meetings on my to-do list. I tried this and it never has worked for me.

7) But, after I do a big task that takes time, I actually log that time on my calendar. At the end of the day, my calendar gets “filled up” with scheduled meetings and big to-dos that took time. I know what I did last week.

Here’s my approach:

  • I write my to-do list before I start working in the morning on a folded piece of printer paper.
  • I cross things off as I get them done. I write down extra things I have done so I can cross them off too. Yay!
  • I add new todos and commitments to this sheet or the other side as I make them. If it isn’t written down, it won’t happen.
  • The big things are commitments and I get most of them done. These are 30-90 minutes of time on bigger projects most of the time.
  • The small things are nice to get done but not at the expense of big things.
  • I don’t beat myself up when something doesn’t get done. I just move them to the next day. I don’t kid myself about it either.
  • I throw out yesterday’s to-do list sheet after I create today’s list. Saving them in a book with meeting notes never worked for me.
  • Weekends are for personal big things and work small things.
  • Software and apps for to-dos have never worked for me. The act of writing things down, seeing them always, and crossing them off is the only thing that works.

All this is completely personal and works for my brain these days.

What’s working for you right now?

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