Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, and Organized Executive.

Mastering Your To-Do List: a Novel Approach

People are always asking me about to-do lists. Do they need to maintain them? How can they go about fixing them? I don’t know anyone in this interruption-based world who doesn’t use some kind of list as a tool for getting things done.

The Super Long Strategy


The primary dilemma you face is balancing short-term and long-term tasks and activities. I maintain a 12 to 14-page to-do list! I have hundreds of things on my to-do list arranged by major life priorities. How do I keep from going crazy? Most of the items on the list are medium to long-range activities.

The first page of my list contains only the short-term activities. The first items on the list include things I’ve chosen to do now or this week. I continually draw from the 14-page list, and move items to the top as it becomes desirable, or necessary, to tackle them.

I maintain a dynamic to-do list in the sense that while it contains everything on this earth I want to get done, I only need to look at one page, and it’s always on top. Although I am forever updating the list, the advantages of my strategy outweigh this task. I wouldn’t think of doing it any other way.

All the anxiety about the things you want to get done diminishes once you put everything down on paper. My list is long, and it will stay long. I don’t worry about all the things on the list, because I know I can get only so much done in one day or one week. I know that I’ll review the entire list periodically, and move items from page 8 up to the front continually. My anxiety stays at a rather low level.

Not Everything Every Day


Many days, I don’t look at pages 2 through 14. Virtually all word-processing programs contain word search capabilities. If I’m working on something during the day and it appears that there will be a breakthrough in my ability to tackle something buried on page 9, I put my word search on, and I quickly come to the item. There is no need to pore extensively through the hundreds of items listed.

Maintaining such a long to-do list helps me to become more proficient in managing long-term or repeated tasks. If something represents a long-term project, I can continually draw from it those portions that can be handled in the short-term and move them up to the front page. Likewise, if something is a repetitive or cyclical project, something that I need to do every month or every year, I can move the portion I choose to get done in the short-term up to the front page.

Consider using the super long to-do strategy. At the least, you’ll have identified everything you face, and have it all on one gigantic roster. At the most, you’ll have a tool that will support you for years to come.

Short-circuiting the To-Do List


On occasion, you may wish to short-circuit the to-do list and get stuff done without entering it on your list. Here’s how it works. Most people who encounter information they believe worth retaining make a note or add it to a list. The information stays there for days, weeks, or months.

Because whatever information you encounter usually involves communicating about it with someone else, rather than adding that to your to-do list, go ahead and call, text, or email the person to whom the information pertains. Communicate the information to them on the spot, rather than adding that task to your to-do list indefinitely.

Paper and Pencil Still Work


Despite all the online options for group scheduling, a simple system to stay on top of your goals that works surprisingly well, is to go to your nearest office supply store and buy one of those washable wall charts or an oversized set of monthly calendars in cardboard stock or paper. You can mount your calendars on the wall and use magic markers, flares, post-it pads, gold stars, or red seals to mark down visually what you want to or have to accomplish.

This isn’t news to you if you work in an office where the use of a number of people, vehicles, or goods needs to be scheduled for optimum efficiency. On a personal basis, such calendar plotting works well, if for no other reason that you’re the boss of the calendar.

Consider this: Honoring your priorities is an efficient way to run your life. The price of being successful, of being affluent, of traveling about, or of meeting the demands of a busy schedule, however, is losing things. Be kind to yourself when this happens.


Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 59 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 806 presentations since 1985 to clients such as Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, America Online, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute; a popular speaker; and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (MasterMedia)
  • Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Alpha/Penguin)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and USA Today. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his websites www.BreathingSpace.com and www.Work-LifeBalance.net and through 24 iPhone Apps at www.itunes.com/apps/BreathingSpaceInstitute.


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