The Two Essential Lists

09.10.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course Efficient time management by Chris Croft


Do you like lists? I hope so! That’s what today is about.

Keeping everything in your head is a bad idea; it’s too stressful, and you’ll forget things every now and then, however good your memory is.

I’ve been testing different methods for years now, and I have found that you need just three things in order to be organized. Two of them are lists, which we’ll be looking at today. The third one will be revealed tomorrow. So, first, you need a…


Master List

This is a great big list of everything you need to do/want to do/have to do/have promised to do. Just put everything down on this one big list. Write it once, and then upkeep is minimal, since it doesn’t change very fast. You don’t need to put, “Eat breakfast,” and, “Check emails”; it’s a list of everything that’s not routine, everything you might forget. If it has 20-50 things on it, then it will only take you ten minutes to write—and that’s a great use of your time!

The list could be on a piece of paper, on a whiteboard, in Excel, in a phone app, or whatever works for you. It could include deadlines and have categories, or it could be just a big list—as long as everything is captured in one place.

It is your raw material for all your planning, the starting point for everything. Once you have this list, you can decide whether you can do everything, you can decide to delete some, say “no” to some, delegate some, postpone some, etc.

Some people say they would feel stressed by writing a list like this. My answer is, “Not as stressed as by not writing it, having it just in your head, and being of unknown size, probably with lots of things being forgotten!”


Daily Jobs To-Do List

Next, you need a short list of tasks that you write every day. Ten tasks is the maximum; any more than that and you’ll never get them done.

I write mine at the end of my working day, so I have all the half-finished and not-done stuff ready for the next day. I don’t have to worry about work in the evening. But some people prefer to write it first thing in the morning. Do whatever you like, as long as you have one of these every day.

Most people have jobs that require lists only sometimes; when they are feeling a bit too busy or a bit stressed, they write a list, and sure enough, it works. They feel less stressed, and the list encourages them to get it all done, until they have cleared it and they feel great. At this point, they feel that they no longer need a list…until enough stuff has built up and they need one again. But this means they are out of control half the time—in between lists.

It would be much better to always have the list, every day. But why should you write a to-do list when you’ve got nothing, or almost nothing, to put on it?

Because then, you can put important non-urgent things on it! You can start to nibble into those big things on your master list. For example, if you have “Learn Italian” on your master list, and your daily list is a bit thin, you can move some of the Italian project across onto your daily list. You could add, “Buy Italian DVD from Amazon,” or “Read Chapter 1 of Teach Yourself Italian.”

So, the jobs-to-do list should always have at least one important task, as well as urgent ones. Then you’re making progress!

This is how the two lists link: Small stuff goes straight onto the daily jobs list, big stuff goes onto the master list, and then later, in small bits, it moves onto your daily jobs list.

Things from the master list also move into your diary or calendar, and that is what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Homework: Now it’s time to make a master list of everything you are going to do—and start the habit of a daily list every day, ideally under ten items and written during the last part of your day. Enjoy!


Recommended book

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande


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