Gmail As My To-Do List

I am astonished by people who archive nothing and let their inboxes run wild. How can you keep track of anything? Crazy people. Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly focused behavior of keeping only active task emails in my inbox. If I’ve taken care of it (or if someone else already did), the email gets filtered and archived away. If it doesn’t deserve to go away yet (e.g. the task is not complete), it sits there…haunting me. That alone inspires me to get the work done.

The behavior takes disciple. I have an email or two in my personal inbox that are two or three years old. Because they are not complete, I cannot archive them away (Charlie, I’m sorry I haven’t finished editing that scene yet for your reel. I promise I’ll get to it!!). This system helps me honor everyone who emails me directly, lets nothing slip through the cracks and gets everything done. Want to find your way onto my to-do list? Email me. I can’t promise you that I’ll get to it immediately – but I can promise you I’ll get to it. It may haunt me and I’ll hate you for it, but I’ll get to it.

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Call It A Day

I can think of few things more unfulfilling and overwhelming than leaving an incomplete pile of work on your desk at the end of the week. You feel like you don’t deserve the weekend. But you do. That work will keep coming and coming. Sometimes you just need to let go.

I’ve found that it’s better to draw the line in the sand on your to-do list first thing every morning. Realistically outline and prioritize the tasks you think you can complete in one day and set the rest aside. Do not let the other tasks bother you. Fold them up and hide them – whatever it takes to focus and feel like you accomplished the list you’ve reasonably committed to.

I’ve turned into a sticky note junkie. I’ve found that the size of a sticky note keeps your list focused, finite and reasonable. I try not to commit to more than one sticky note per day. Nothing feels better than to crumple complete notes and throw them away at the end of the day. You should try it sometime.

Batch Like-Minded Processes

Every January, my parents do a brilliant thing: they map out the year’s birthdays, buy cards for everyone in a single trip (often armed with coupons to save big bucks), sign & address every card in a single sitting, and slip them into the mail one by one as each birthday approaches. They save dozens of trips to the store (as much as 35 hours per year in round trips!) and finish the project with an annual peace of mind.

It might sound like cheating, but how many people’s birthdays have you missed? When faced with impending birthdays, it’s a lot of work to go to the store every time – the deed rarely gets done! Better to do it in a batch than not at all.

Batching like-minded tasks plays a key role in productivity. While multi-tasking, priorities get disheveled. You only carry out part of a task before moving on to another. By the end of the day, you’ve touched hundreds of things and finished nothing. Better to finish one stack and move on after it’s done. You may not make progress in other areas, but at least you can take pride in crossing something off your list.

The “like-minded” part is important. Managing money uses a different part of your brain than design. It takes a lot of mental effort to switch gears between creativity and cold numbers. The transition between may cost you time and quality. While the financials and design may fall under one project, they are not like-minded processes. Better to do the financials for three different projects at once – even at the expense of crossing a project off your list. You will hone your focus and build mental momentum to get you through similar tasks much quicker. In aggregate, you will save a lot of time and yield better results.

Study your to-do list. Group similar items by tool used, skill needed, energy level, people involved or any other comparison metric. Split tasks into sub-tasks if they need more than one different thought process. Tackle the biggest group pile of like-minded processes first. Then revel in your accomplishments.