The Lifehacker System To-Do List System Takes a Page from Allen, But Adds Valuable Twists

October 21, 2009 at 4:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I mentioned yesterday that I would go over the Lifehacker system for to-do lists. Like Allen’s Getting Things Done (which author Gina Trapani credits), the Lifehacker system offers unique components that will help you to avoid getting overwhelmed, which is my worst depressive affliction, and one of the biggest roadblocks to productivity generally.

Trapani’s main point is both simple and powerful: act as if your to-do list is a series of instructions to a personal assistant who is on the job for the first time. First off, she writes, “only put items on the list that you’re definitely doing,” which means that you should limit it to 20 items, and tackle anything that’s getting a bit stale immediately.

Also, taking a page from Allen, Trapani advocates that you write down only the next task for each project. She goes one step further by recommending that you use specific, action-oriented verbs: “Leave voice mail for boss asking about Project X status” rather than just, “Project X status.” You should also include any names, phone numbers, email addresses, or other information you need to complete the job, since even having to look up a phone number can cause you to procrastinate on a call you’re not eager to make.

She suggests logging your tasks to get a feeling of accomplishment; I simply keep all of my old to-do lists and review them when the time comes to provide evidence of productivity (annual rank-and-rating, for example). It’s a good idea to do this even if you’re not working, since depression often causes you to focus on the negative and overlook what you’ve accomplished.

The book’s next hack changed my work habits tremendously. It entails setting up your top priority task the night before so that you can come into work and complete something before checking email or getting sucked into any of a number of trivial chores. I block out an hour or two each morning to work on projects that require a high level of concentration, and I come in quite early (6:30 a.m.) so that I won’t be pelted with requests and interruptions during this time. Of course, my workplace is filled with early birds who often spend their early hours socializing, which annoys me. However, no one from my functional group gets in until 8:30 a.m., so I do have time to bang out some good writing or computing before the mad, shrieking portion of the day begins. This, too, is a hack that can help you even if you’re not working. If you have forms to fill out or read anything demanding, plan to hit it first thing so that you’ll have a sense of accomplishment before the day really begins.

You’ll probably want to adopt elements from both systems, and I recommend reading both books — Getting Things Done and Upgrade Your Life — if you’re serious about improving your productivity and beating depressive procrastination.

That’s all for now; as always, love to all.


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