I’m a bit of a to-do list nut, always looking for new and better ways to manage the list. It sounds trivial, and in some ways it is, but I think it’s also very important for a manager. One of the distinguishing features of management work compared to engineering is that you have so many more things in flight at once, and being well-organised about them is important to success. Unlike some of the other keys to success, this one seems fairly easy – there shouldn’t really be any excuses for being bad at it.
I’ve been through a number of different systems. I’m not sure whether that’s because my job changes, because I find better systems, or because I just get bored of one system after a while. My current systems do not involve a computer, which feels somehow both obvious and impossible to explain. Last week, I added a new element, which I find oddly exciting. But let’s start at the beginning.
Everything starts with the notepad: my portable recording device. It’s a bit sad, but I can hardly go anywhere without it any more. I imagine myself stuck with the habit when I retire, unable to leave the house without it, doddering round town clutching a notepad.
For a while, I used to keep the to-do list itself on the notepad. There’s a convenience to that, but I got fed up of it. After I’d crossed out two-thirds of the list, it would start to look messy and I’d feel compelled to copy the remaining items onto a new page. Over the years, the rate of turnover on my list increased to the point where this happened every day or two, and just got annoying. So now, the notepad is temporary, and when I get back to my desk, it all gets uploaded to the wall:
Although I’ve been using this system for a while, it still feels new enough for me to be in love with it. I love that each item can be moved around independently, so I can keep the list visually prioritised, with urgent items at the top. I also like the stack of ‘done’ items (which sits on my desk) – it can be satisfying to flick back through them sometimes.
For a while, I used a few different colours to categorise items – but that’s been less useful recently so I’ve stopped (but I still have the multicoloured pack of post-its).
The post-its are all about ticking things off. The goal is to get items off the wall, onto the ‘done’ stack. But not everything works this way. It’s not how you get fit. It’s not how you improve your people skills. The stickies are tactical and one-off, and I’ve been realising for a while that I need something for strategic and recurring items. So here’s the newest part of my system:
It’s taken straight from here, and I’m rather excited about it 🙂
For now it’s on the whiteboard by my desk, which is nice for visibility, but I’m almost certainly going to move it to paper so I can look back at previous weeks.