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The Mindful Entrepreneur

The Temporary ToDo List

Categories: Productivity

I’m going slightly against one of my main principles here……. not to use to-do lists.

Actually it’s a direct violation of the principle, because that’s exactly what I’m going to tell you do to…. But (and this is important) only in certain situations, where you need to restore order and just get shit done.

Don’t Overuse it

The key here is to only use a to-do list for a particular period of time. It could be a 4 hour session or an all day session, but never longer than all day. Then once that period of time is over, discard your to-do list, whether or not you’ve completed it or not. Just forget it.

The Problem…

…With to-do lists is that they play on your mind and cause unnecessary stress. Not to mention that if you go back to an ongoing to-do list, then your priorities have probably changed since you wrote the list. If you don’t diligently cross items off when they’re no longer needed, completed or need re-prioritising then you quickly get a confusing, out of date and stressful to-do list.

The mental weight of having a to-do list also often means that rather than increasing your productivity, they often do the opposite.

If you do have a to-do list, it needs to be made up of only a few, ultra focussed tasks. Once you’ve blasted through this list, you can then write another one (if necessary).

When to Use One

If you ever find yourself in situation where you have a lot to do, but simply don’t know where to start, then writing down the tasks may free up mental space and also give you something to work through.

Items on the list should be accomplish-able without having to create further actions for each item. For example, “sort out a blog post” is probably not a good task, where-as;

  1. research pickled onions
  2. write blog post based on research
  3. source images for pickled onion blog post

Would make a good set of tasks, that you can whip through without delving into sub to-do lists. You want to spend as little time thinking about your to-do list as possible and as much time focussing on each task.

Discard It

Once you’ve finished your period of work, then you should discard your list.

A period of work could be 4 hours before lunch time in the morning, or a couple of hours in the evening. It shouldn’t be longer than a day, because that’s when things can start to get messy and weigh on your mind. You can also combine this period of work with the Pomodoro technique to really get things moving.

Once your work period is up, scrap your to-do list and allow yourself to completely forget about it. Don’t worry, you’ll know what you need to do when you start your next work session (following this guide will help).

You should find that rather than being overwhelmed and not achieving anything, by writing and executing a temporary to-do list, you’ve actually achieved a fair amount of work and taken small weight off your mind.

If you need to get shit done at some point in the future, you can always write yourself another temporary to-do list.

PS. I use Todoist for this purpose, as it integrates nicely with Postbox, but a scrap of paper works just as well for a to-do list…. There is no need to overcomplicate.


Please share your todo list thoughts below… I love hearing how other people manage their time!

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About the author: I’m the Founder of Own the Web (aka. Mindful Marketeer), & I’m passionate about helping good causes, local & small businesses grow by bringing clarity to situations. I do this through my work at Own the Web, whilst practising mindfulness & blogging about it here. Other quick facts also include I’m a vegan, an individualist, equality champion & a mindful free thinker. Connect with me on Twitter or Peter Leigh on Google+.

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