This episode explores the different ways I manage my todo list items and along with techniques I’ve learned to avoid feeling overwhelmed by them and get more done.


The topic of managing task lists and todo items comes up often with coaching clients. I find that many people (including me) sometimes experience their task tracking system as depressing and discouraging instead of helping them.

One of the most important things to remember about any task management systems is that they are rarely permanent.  My system continues to change and evolve,  even after almost 25 years in the work place.

Big Ideas

1) A winning task tracking system is:

  • Flexible enough to change as you do
  • Good enough not to let critical things drop or silently fail
  • Easy to maintain (however you define that)
  • Not overwhelming
  • Capable of filtering–shows what need and hides the rest
  • Something you can put your full confidence in

2) My advice

  • Do what works for you
  • Don’t listen to the gurus if their methodologies don’t work for you
  • Systems rotate and have limited shelf-life
    • What worked yesterday might not work today
    • Don’t beat yourself up when it fails
    • Be flexible
    • Know when to push through and when to take a break or try something else
    • Sometimes it’s time throw all the Post-its away and start over
  • Even the people who talk about how they execute their systems like a walk on the beach at sunset have challenges
    • They are human
    • Some people are robots and execute their task system w/ amazing proficiency–most likely you are not like them and neither am I.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others

3) My approach

  • Daily, short-term tasks go on paper or Post-Its (analog)
  • Long-term tasks and projects get stored in Trello (digital and easily searchable)

A Two Tiered System: A Daily List and Deep Storage

1) Daily

  • Always Visible
  • My rotating tools
    • 4×4 Post-it Notes and a Sharpie
    • Blank sheet of copy paper on clipboard with tasks in circles
    • Medium size spiral notebook
      • Open to one side only
      • Everything for that day must fit on the page (can’t spill onto another page)

2) Deep Storage goes in Trello

  • Go here for the big picture/full overview
  • Holds everything that needs to be done or considered in the future
  • Filtering aids in avoiding overwhelm
  • “Honey dos” are added silently by my wife
    • Doesn’t stress me out
    • Doesn’t interrupt me
    • Doesn’t get forgotten
  • High-level/quick scan periodically (every week or two on Saturday mornings)
    • Pick out important stuff that needs to be prioritize or started soon
    • This periodic check-in has saved us from missing/dropping some important tasks
  • Deep review every couple of months
    • Scan every card in the board and put in roughly prioritized order
  • Because my wife doesn’t totally love Trello (and I hear there are few wives that do), I often scan it for the “next important things we need to focus on” and put them on Post-its.
    • On a given weekend we might make post-its of the most important 5 or 6 things that need to happen on Saturday and agree to tackle them
    • We usually get half of them done which means we should hire a better scrum master than me  😉

Tactical Suggestions for Daily Success

1) Set up your day for success

  • It all begins the night before
    • Deciding first thing in the day never seems to work as well (the clarity just isn’t there)
    • Select the top 3 things that must happen tomorrow (no more) and write them down
  • If you are working on a side-hustle or personal projects before you start the day, decide what those couple of things will be too
  • If you find that you’re getting distracted or derailed on a consistent basis, create a “No List” for the day
    • Email before a particular time
    • Browsing the news or bargain sites
    • Facebook or Twitter
  • Make individual tasks to be accomplished small enough that they can be completed in 4 hours or less
    • You want to feel a sense of progress
    • If more than 4 hours it’s probably too complicated
  • Get to know when the times during the day that you have your best energy and cognition
    • I find these times are generally in the same neighborhood each weekday
    • Weekends seem to have a different vibe to them

2) Make it easy to add to new todo items for short-term and long-term tasks

  • Keep a blank pad or special piece of paper to capture random ideas that pop into your head when you are in deep focus
  • Work out a way to merge these things back into your daily list or deep storage
  • Keep the post-its and Sharpie present
  • Create an email alias to easily send new cards to Trello
    • It can be dangerous to go into email because it opens Pandora’s inbox
    • Compose an offline email so as not to send and receive more new email–the card will get created eventually and this is usually fine

3) An Always visible (daily) task lists seem to work better

  • Keep Post-Its, paper or notebook always in a place I can see them
  • Easier to remain focused on what I’m supposed to be doing and need to accomplish
  • Paper and analog methods work much better than electronic tools for me
    • No distractions
    • I’ve never been distracted to check my email when moving a Post-It note around
    • Better than anything I’ve ever tried
  • It’s always within my field of vision so it’s easier to stay on track


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