Is Your Task List Too Big and Out of Control?
October 3, 2012
Is your current task list is too long and out of control? Are you a One Minute To-Do List (1MTD) or MYN user, but perhaps have given up using it because your task list has gotten so big?
This is the most common reason people give up on using any sort automated task list—automated lists get too big and out of control very quickly. Even users of the excellent GTD system often say their Next Action list gets too big and so becomes unusable. Really, any automated task system will easily get out of hand—so don’t feel bad. The common source of the problem is that old tasks tend to build up in automated lists and few of us know how to handle that.
Well, in the 1MTD and MYN systems, there is no reason it has to be this way. There are easy ways to keep your task list short, well focused, and under control. Those ways are built into the systems, so if you have lost your way with either system, let me show you how to get your list cleaned up now.
(By the way, if you have not used either system yet, then spend a few minutes in the first part of the free 1MTD PDF book that you can download here. It will teach the system quickly).
The Main Principle: Use the Low Priority Section Liberally
In both 1MTD and MYN, the way to shorten the task list that you look at daily is to put things that can wait longer than 10 days into the Low priority section; that section is called the Over the Horizon urgency zone.
If you’ve forgotten that term, let me give you a quick review of some 1MTD and MYN basics. Recall that in 1MTD and MYN, the high priority section is for things absolutely due today. And the medium priority section (called Normal in Outlook) is for things that you want to do in the next 1 to 10 days. You study these two sections every day, so you want to keep them short. The two rules to keep them short are this: no more than five items in the high-priority section, and no more than 20 items in the medium (normal) priority section. So that’s a total of 25 items max in the upper two sections. Keeping to 25 will give you the focus you need and make your list usable again.
So the technique is just move the excess items into the low priority section—the Over the Horizon section. And then plan on reviewing the low priority section about once a week to determine if anything there has become more urgent. That’s it.
Now, there are some fine points on how you use the low priority section, depending on which of the two systems you use.
Using Low Priority in the One Minute To-Do List (1MTD)
In 1MTD, you simply move all tasks beyond the top 25 main tasks into the low priority section as described above. That’s really all there is to it. This is a very simple approach and one reason the One Minute To-Do List is so easy to use.
However, the disadvantage of 1MTD is that after several months the low priority list can get very big, and so you may stop reviewing the whole list weekly. If that happens, you should plan on deleting a lot of tasks there—old dead tasks probably won’t ever get done anyway, so trim the list liberally until the low priority section is easy to review weekly.
But I realize that may be hard for some of you to do. Many people have trouble deleting tasks, even old dead ones—we tend to want to hold onto them, hoping to do them someday. So if you have trouble deleting a lot of tasks, then you probably want to advance to the MYN system.
Using Low Priority in MYN: Defer to Review
In MYN, the way to use the low priority section is a little more complicated than 1MTD, but much more powerful, and it handles an unlimited number of tasks. It does this by using the start date field, in a very specific way.
Here’s how: when you put a task in the low priority section, you immediately set the start date to a future day you next want to review that item. That hides the task (assuming you have MYN configurations set in your task list), and when done consistently with all low priority tasks, your low priority section will be kept very short or even empty most of the time. Then, every week or so, as a few low priority tasks arrive for review, your job is to empty that short list again by either scheduling them to the future, deleting some, or by moving a few more urgent ones back up into your main list.
Note, in the low priority section you should set that start date as far into the future as possible to spread out these reviews; and I recommend you set them all to a future Monday so you know what day each week to do the review.
The above process is called Defer to Review in MYN, and is one of the features that makes MYN so powerful. There are subtleties to it, and there is a complimentary process called Defer-to-Do; you can read more about all of this in chapter 9 of the Outlook book and chapter 9 of the 1MTD book.
Get Your Task List Cleaned Up Today
So as you can see, it’s quite easy to keep your main task list short and well-controlled in both 1MTD and in MYN. I recommend you take a few minutes right now and follow the steps above to get your main task list cleaned up immediately. Having a well-focused and short list reduces the stress in your workday; it keeps things from falling through the cracks, and it ensures that you’re working on the most important things first. It’s simple to do in both 1MTD and in MYN.