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How I created a targeted to do list in 3 simple steps

June 21st, 2013 By: Ash

Background / Defining the problem:

Each morning I would find myself confronted with the same question: what do I need to get done today?

This was usually followed by recounting my innumerable projects swimming around in my mind followed by a  feeling of being overwhelmed and then apathy.

End result: Stress, overwhelm, indifference, procrastination …. and zero output!

After watching my mind using my three steps to overcome procrastination I realised that it was fear rearing its ugly head … again. (Surprise surprise)

The fear was of not being able to complete all those tasks in my growing list of projects. Somehow my lizard brain assumes that all those tasks need to be done today until I actually put down a plan with a timeline that I can see

This often meant that I didn’t take any action apart from hours of hand wringing!

Defining the solution

Once the problem was clearly defined in my mind the solution was pretty obvious: come up with a to do list that is  actually achievable today.

How did I come up with the best possible to do list?

I used a combination of the David Allen’s GTD approach and Stephen Covey’s four
quadrants approach to decide on what needs to be done today to keep all the projects moving forward at a steady pace.

Once this was done I decided to just focus on the to-do list for the day and didn’t pay any attention to the scary list of projects (unless of course there was an emergency).

Implementing the solution – Creating my to do list in 3 simple steps

1) I scan all my projects daily using the GTD / Omnifocus approach
and identify the next action for each one and which ones requires action today for it to keep moving forward. E.g. My monthly newsletter due at the end of each month is does not need to be completed on the 21st of the month.

(Note this step could just as well be achieved without the GTD / Omnifocus approach by simply listing projects off the top of your head. The GTD / Omnifocus approach just offers more  structure)

2 ) Arrange the tasks into branches using Mindnode mindmapping app:

I put all the tasks into Mindnode so I end up with a list of tasks that “branch out” rather than appear in a sequential list in word.







I find this visual arrangement to be very effective in prioritising tasks compared to the traditional list.

Having ideas listed one below the other seems to force my brain to prioritise the tasks in the order that they are listed which is exactly what I don’t want to do when brainstorming.

3) I then prioritise all the items in my to do list on my Wunderlist app (free for iPhone and Mac)

What I love about Wunderlist is it’s minimalist interface and the fact that it syncs beautifully across my Mac, iPhone and iPad


What are your experiences with creating to do lists? Do you prefer to use apps or do you prefer an ad hoc approach?

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Leave a Comment


I wonder how long do you spend on planing in the morning. This seem like take an hour for me.

Comment by TS on December 16, 2013 at 5:11 am

I don’t mind spending time planning but so many tasks seem to always appear out of the left field. They are always urgent and tramp my plans/ project lists. Also, any tips for people who travel often? Any tips for making GQueues more effective?

Thanks Ash!

Comment by Tajci on March 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Hey Tajci,

Great to hear from you! Yes I find that a lot of stuff side swipes me too. The best way I know to manage this is to use Omnifocus for the iPhone. I am a huge Omnifocus fan and have it on all my apple devices. The reason I love it is because I can verbally tell my phone “Remind me to respond to person XYZ at 4pm today” and it’s in a trusted system for me to deal with later. This minimises interruptions.

Omnifocus is based on the GTD system and allows you to prioritise tasks at a given time each day/week/month when you do your daily/weekly/monthly review. It reduces stress levels dramatically and allows you to prioritise the important over the urgent.

I’ve written a post about it on my site. Just go to the search bar and type in GTD with Omnifocus and it will bring up the post. Better still I’ll email the link to you (WordPress won’t let me post the link in this comment unfortunately)

Comment by Ash on April 3, 2014 at 11:41 am

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