Building Blocks

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One To-Do List to Rule Them All

June 10, 2016

At the beginning of this year, I left my full-time job at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation where I’d spent six years pursuing a great mission and traded it in for running a film production business with my husband, working as a consultant at Butler Nonprofit Consulting, and occasionally doing some projects for my old employer. I also took over as board chair at Forklift Danceworks and have various other volunteer engagements with Leadership Austin and Multicultural Refugee Coalition, to name a few. Oh, and I have a three-year-old daughter. So, you could say that I’m a skilled juggler. Those who know me, know that I love being busy and working on lots of different things is something I’m good at. But, there’s no way I could do this level of juggling without a good system. For me, the key is one electronic to-do list where I keep track of everything.

Stop me if this sounds familiar: I used to have a written to-do list at work of items for the week and the day. Which I would cross reference against my work email and my Excel project list. At home, I had written lists of to-do items, and an overflowing personal email box that seemed to always be at the bottom of any list. And those scribbled meeting notes that had action items often never made it on a list. It really is a little shocking how productive I was with this approach.

But, in 2015, I took a productivity class from Maura Thomas, and implementing her systems, including ONE to-do list, has made it possible for me to take on even more roles in my professional and volunteer life without dropping any balls (to keep the metaphor going). A big ah-ha for me in Maura’s class (and something I have to re-teach myself on an ongoing basis) is that email is not your to-do list. In addition to all my old official to-do lists, I also used to sit on an ‘Action’ folder in my email of items that I needed to do something for in order to respond (like have enough time to think). And that just meant I had another to-do list and another place to look to find work.

Now, more frequently than Maura would advise, I process my email by responding to things that I can get to right away and adding specific items to my to-do list for those things that I need to follow up with or work on. When I look at my to-do list right now, it has everything requiring action today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And there’s no hiding from the list by checking out my ‘Action’ emails or searching for items on another list I’d rather do. I’ve got 3-5 targeted items a day to knock out. Which sounds a lot more manageable than the list of obligations I rattled off at the beginning. It keeps me focused on taking action every day, and knowing that I can’t do everything at once.

Maura and other productivity experts have lots of good advice on how to implement strategies and systems that help you stay productive. I’ve spent years trying out different approaches and so far, this one has worked the best. Take a few minutes today to check out Maura’s site, the latest article from Gretchen Rubin, or Huffington Post's productivity hacks and see if you can bring a little more control to juggling your life.


(Bonus points to anyone who got my nerdy Lord of the Rings reference in the blog title.)

Julie Remde, Associate