Saturday, November 24, 2007

Six Ways of Managing To-Do Lists (Entrepreneurial Lifehacking)

Two cliches of entrepreneurship are managing yourself and wearing many hats. At the heart of all this is To-Do List Management. A boring subject, but one which holds the key to our productivity and happiness.

Six Ways of Managing To-Do's:

1. Noting them in a daily work journal (a document)
2. Listing, scoring, tracking them in a spreadsheet
3. Storing them in folders in my email
4. Keeping them in online "sticky note" applications
5. Using Jott to send them to myself via phone.
6. Writing lists on pieces of paper

I have experimented with these for a long time (except Jott, that is recent).

My findings: -- summarized from lots of testing :-)

Since I have a very high volume of items (feature requests, little notes, micro-bugs) the spreadsheet method is required. I need a method that is simple enough that I'll use it, but which can organize and prioritize hundreds of to-do items.

Email, Jott, and paper lists are all useful ways of recording items to make sure they get into the spreadsheet. If the to-do item is very small then it might be dealt with before it makes it to the spreadsheet.

Paper is good also to take items out of the spreadsheet as the Daily To-Do List.

Smaller notes:

I tried the email method during a campaign to keep my emai inbox clean. That campaign worked and I rarely have more than 20 messages in my inbox now. But the email folder method wasn't working for me because I was wasting time by sending myself emails and it was difficult to get myself to visit the folders.

I think the folder method works for less pressing items, and maybe for lists that are only 20 or 30 items usually.

Jott is pretty cool. I think it's more cool as an on-the-fly communication system. But it's good for a quick reminder of a micro-feature that you can send to email and copy into a spreadsheet later. If you could jot to a spreadsheet that would be cool, but the internal mechanism for managing your Jotts is primitive.

I think paper is a really really good method... but it's easy to lose paper and hard to organize it. Sometimes I write notes and they end up useless in a pile. I think written notes have an expiration of 24-72 hours. I think paper is good for copying a list of what to do and then thinking out on paper exactly how you are going to do those things that day.

Journaling your work is important I believe. But it's a big jumble. The journal has two purposes. One is like writing on paper - temporary thinking and quick access - but it's tied to the clipboard on your computer. The other is the emergency haystack - if you're looking for something and you don't know where it is, you can always dive into the haystack.

Many people comment on the soothing aspect of creating lists. Write a list and you feel control over your life. I think it's even more true for a spreadsheet. You have to put some work into the spreadsheet. I have a dorky model where I rate todo items on how important they are to the business. It takes a lot of time to do that... but hey, how can you march without a strategy? Plus having a strategy is much more comforting :-).