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April 25th, 2019

An oft remarked aspect of productivity regarding to-do lists is how effective they can be when they are actually used.  Of course, a to-do list that is made only in order to feel productive and not to guide next steps is simply a waste of time. 


For every to-do list that has been written and eventually discarded without any of it’s listed items coming to fruition, we might ask: why do some to-do lists get done and others don’t?


The assumption might be that it’s all about the person who was supposed to do all the items on the list.  Perhaps they were lazy, got distracted, or some other excuse.


But what if these discarded to-do lists have more to do with the nature of the list rather than the doer?


We might ask: is there a to-do list that is more likely to be done than another to-do list?


Approaching this question from some extremes, we can ponder the likelihood of to-do list with some god-awful number of items, say 230 against a to-do list with 5 items on it.


It’s obvious the to-do list with 5 items is more likely to get done.  But if this seems perfectly acceptable with extreme juxtapositions it’s reasonable to think that similar likelihoods hold true with much lower and closer numbers.


Is a to-do list with 10 items more likely to get done than a list with 20?


The logic of the prior assumption would seem to indicate yes.  But how far can this kind of trend really be pushed?


Regardless, a list of 10 or 20 items takes a few minutes to think through and write down.  Minutes during which anxiety can rise as we realize just how much we have to do.  Suddenly the mind is clouded with many items and intoxicated with stress. 


Is this the best way to go about it?  Or should we be chunking our to-do’s into even smaller pieces.


What about just two items?  Literally a two- as in the number – do list.


The first item is our most pressing next action,


and the second is merely what we currently think would be a good next step after our current action.


Who knows, the world might look quite different after we’ve taken that first step.


What we plan 7 and 8 steps ahead might turn out to be totally irrelevant, and if we holdfast to this order we’ve planned out into the future, it might even keep us from exploring more productive avenues that open up as we make progress.


This may even be a reason why many to-do lists are discarded before they’re ever even completed: things change as we do things, which lead to different needs and other things that need to be done.


A two-step list is also faster to think of and write down.  There’s no time, nor scope for anxiety or worry to bloom and we can feel the comfort of actually getting to work on our tasks much sooner.


The obviously homophonic implications of the to-do list might actually hide a more incisive description about what needs to be done. 


Simply put, don’t plan every step to the end.


Just plan two, to do,


and then,


write another to-do list.


But keep it short.


This episode references Episode 285: Plan on no Plans

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Podcast Ep. 375: Two-Do

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