Task Management

I know what a task list is, how do I use it?
This problem -- task management -- is actually the most common problem people have with their task lists -- it's all very well to buy a fancy ring-bound leather-jacketed personal organizer, or a $300 smart phone with bells, whistles, and 700 billion available apps…. But once you have it, what do you do with it? What goes on it? How do you prioritize it? And faced with a 50-item list of tasks, how does anyone buckle down and get to work instead of having a nervous breakdown?

Despite what the local cell phone salesperson may have told you, your task list can't actually help with that. Time management encompasses several different, inter-related concepts, and your to-do list is one of the least important aspects of it. Deciding what to do and Figuring out how to get there are both more important to getting your life organized; your task management system is really just a tool for making those happen. So I strongly recommend that you start there -- the choices you make in those areas will affect your needs for your to-do list, because

  • Figuring out what to put on your task list is the job of Project Management (and in particular, step 2 of project management, What Will It Take To Get There?)
  • Prioritizing your task list is the job of your system. (If your system doesn't do it, find a hack to help you.) (Or get a new system) And nervous breakdowns can be prevented -- in part -- by recognizing a distinction that's often ignored; "Task List" can mean two different things in different contexts:
    • The subset of your tasks that you have chosen to do today, or this week, or whatever (your "current task list")
    • The enormously long list containing everything you need to do, or want to do , or wish you could do, over the course of your entire foreseeable lifetime. (The "Master Task List", or as I call it, the "Mondo-Huge To-do List")
    Most task management systems recommend keeping some sort of master task list, and help you generate a daily or weekly to-do list off of it.

So this page is going to discuss stuff specific to task lists. Check out Project Management and Systems for more information on what to do with them once you've got them.

I want to keep track of all my tasks -- on what should I keep my list?
The advantages and disadvantages of assorted methods of task tracking are similar to those of your schedule tracking, so the decision about how to keep your to-do list and how to keep your calendar should be made at the same time.

I have all my tasks written down, and now I can't find them. How do I sort my list?
There are many different recommendations on how to keep your to-do list organized. This will sometimes be dictated by your system (GTD, for example, requires that you sort by context), so you'll probably want to decide on a system before you make any final decisions about your task list sorting.

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