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To do list - the ROCK of time management

Time management tools - Effective time management - To do list - Time management planner - File organizer

You may read a lot of controversial articles and comments on the term to do list.

Anyway this is THE important time management object or tool, because it is – or should be – the only ONE place of collecting things to do.

It is the basis of prioritizing, of planning and sometimes scheduling too.

If you don’t use any other tools or means to deal with your tasks the to-do list will provide all you need in the first run to manage yourself. However, without something like a to-do list despite using any other means will push you into chaos.

Although not recommended, it is better to write your dates into a to-do list, than collecting tasks within a scheduler.

The length of the to do list will not be shorter if you use highly sophisticated software. You can hide the amount, possibly handle it better and more efficient, but it always remains the same regardless of how you process it.

However, what means better and more efficient?

If you have captured a task within your to do list, it should be processed some time. You first have to orient yourself and decide what to do next.

The fact alone, that your job allows or demands carrying a to do list, implies, that you are forced to arrange and manage tasks. If you have to arrange tasks you have some power of control over your work time.


Writing down what remains after your first decisions saying no or delegating. By the way, it approximately takes the same time, whether done into a PC program or jotted down on a sheet of paper. However, anyway it is essential. No architect plans a house by head only.

The difference is, that your “building of your daily work” is no house, but like an “amoeba” – one whole creature but more or less, and faster or slowlier, anyway unpredictable, changing its shape.(see time management activities, linear/nonlinear modes)


Before starting to really act on a task, orientation and deciding needs your eyes and brain flying/skimming over a list regardless of sheet of paper or computer screen.

What you can do with the electronic solution, what no paper tool can provide, is rearranging, erasing, storing, copying, transmitting, making accessible to a team, printing, formatting and so on.

By the way, some office wisdom:

  • As soon as a list is printed out, it no longer is valid.
  • The validity of a printout is inverse proportional to the grade of working dynamic.
  • No tool can relieve yourself of decisions, saying no or delegating.

A to do list ideally is the container for all your things you decided to process, regardless of technology (paper hardware, electronic hardware, software).

Selection tips for a proper to-do list solution

When searching a proper tool, in dynamic working environments is mandatory:

  • speed of access
  • portability
  • the often overseen question: do I really need this tool?

Choose your tools by thoroughly checking these points minimum, if you are forced to make the most out of your time.

If you find yourself after some time using a super XYZ to do list solution and making notes on stickers or use a parallel calendar or a notebook, then something went wrong, or you have time enough to serve XYZ.

It should not be underestimated that there is a certain gambling factor associated mainly with electronic tools. If this fact supports personal (work) satisfaction it is ok. If it leads to increase stress then there is need for action!

Speed of access

If your to do list with only work related to dos lies on your desk, if you can carry it with you if you are on the way, you immediately can add things to do.

Naturally, this cannot always be kept up 100%.

You sometimes have to make additional notes, you have to remember things for a while, you possibly make speech records, jot down numbers on a napkin ...

If important enough and cannot be done immediately it is wise to put it into your to do list too for later processing – even if this needs the writing time – it will pay off manifold.

You don't forget important things, and therefore cut stress. You don't have to correct bad consequences, and therefore remain professional. You possess a little documentation, that later can avoid searching time and retracing of events in case of troubles.

And finally you don’t have to remember, where you have collected different tasks. The more locations you provide to note important things to do, the more time you need to check all the locations. In some respect this applies to categorizing for instance too.

Estimate how long it takes to retrieve a certain task in your current time management solution. Do you think it could be faster? Do you think it should be faster? Does your boss think it must be faster?

Go back to the roots. Look, what are the basics you need to get rid of time demands? (see definition of time management)


Having a tool, that allows high speed access but only at a fixed location doesn’t really help in managing your todos.

Formal aspects

A to do list is a list of

  • Distinct and clearly discernable list points.
  • One task in one line,
  • Precise check points for signaling if done.
  • The room in one line suffices for a clear description of a task.

Modern tools provide the possibility to rearrange the task-lines for setting priorities. More on priority-setting at activities page.

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