The Things I'm Going To Do Today

Ok, so not really.

This post is mostly about playing a head game with yourself, in an effort to get more organized. But not "head games" in a bad way. On my to do list for the past few weeks I've had something like "write a blog post about todo list item titles," because in light of this post about org-mode it seems like a topic in need of further definition. Basically my goal is to explore, the best way to think about what we have to do, to allow us to accomplish what we want to. The GTD system which so many people are enamored of present a few ideas on the topic, and while the GTD way is a good place to start thinking, it's not a good place to stop thinking.


We've all done it. Made a todo list that we didn't end up using for one reason or another. Todo lists, need to be useful: they should help us organize our day, and help us keep track of all the things wee need to accomplish. In a lot of ways, maintaining focus over our day and all of the tasks that nag at us are contradictory, so todo lists are failed by design.

The first, and frequent issue in my own organization are lists and plans that go too far and list too many "actionable items." This divides your time and actions into too many little pieces, leading to a number of outcomes. The first risk is that you might start to ignore the list entirely because it's too long and complicated, even if it's an illusion caused by the size of the items on your list. Ergo, the total length of the list you "work off of," needs to be manageable and comprehensible.

The second risk, is that, an overactive todo list is one where you over plan for yourself, such that your list--while accurate and comprehensible--isn't useful. Beyond simply providing "outboard memory," the best todo lists allow us to structure and make plans for our working time. When working (e.g. writing, at the computer, etc.), I like to have my projects chopped up into pieces that can conceivably get done in the time I have to work on them, but that give me the time and freedom to bury myself on a side project, or follow inspiration or a train of thought to its completion when needed. While effective todo lists help you structure your time, flexibility is still valuable.

There are issues on the other end of the spectrum as well: when lists are too short, and the "actionable items" on a list are too conceptually large, the effectiveness of lists is degraded as well. A reminder to "write a novel," even a specific novel, is less than helpful for helping you accomplish something in the moment. Even a dozen items, on a list where you end up checking something off once every day or two doesn't help you figure out "Ok, what do I need to work on now." Besides the chances are, if the items are too large and the list is too small, that you probably have it memorized anyway.

Right? Other strategies?

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