Eric Krueger

The One True To-Do List

5-minute read | last updated 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Legos
Either a busy calendar or some Legos. Not sure which.
(Photo by Omar Flores from Unsplash)

...is your calendar. By definition, if it’s on your calendar - you have time to do it! Simple.

Work vs. Personal Calendars

I think the disparity between successful planning performed in a professional setting versus apathy in planning our personal lives is ironic. Professionally, we arrive on time for meetings, plan our week ahead, and rely on the accuracy of everyone else's calendar. In the corporate world, if someone asks when they can meet with us, we can have an answer in minutes.

But in our personal lives, our calendar takes a back seat. Arriving on time is event-dependent. We don’t look at our week ahead. If we’re asked when we’re available the answer is “let me get back to you”.

There’s a bit of decision paralysis going on here. When we're the boss we want to be doing the things we think are the most exciting or that will have the biggest payoff for us in the long-run. It's hard for us to commit because we want to keep our options open.

So we use our calendar intermittently, and for that reason we can't trust it. Maybe we put a few things on there - but because everything isn't on there, it's not particularly helpful for planning purposes. You still have to remember everything that might not be on there. The calendar becomes stressful.

But at work or home, we can use our calendar for more than appointments and meetings with others - it can be a place where we reserve time to do the things most important to us. And when to-dos, appointments, and meetings are intermingled, they eventually begin receiving the same treatment and priority.

Timeblocking

So use your calendar more.

The idea of putting something on your calendar for yourself as a to-do isn’t novel - it’s called timeblocking. There are about 10,000 guides out there on the internet that you can read if you haven't heard of timeblocking, and most people don't do it.

We don't do it because we don’t think it works. We don’t think it works because we don’t trust ourselves to do the things on our calendar at the times we say we’re going to do them. So we don't use our calendar, and we march forward - confidently, ignorantly, blindly into the future.

We jot down tasks on sticky notes. We buy a dedicated bullet journal. We write meeting minutes and set aside an "action items" section. We create a new section in OneNote and a new channel in Teams. We find a keyboard shortcut in Slack that allows us to add tasks quickly which syncs to a Kanban board on our Jira instance. We flag emails and pray they aren't pushed too far down our inbox. We set reminders in our phones that will use information from satellites high in orbit to geolocate and notify us at just the right time and location so we remember to do that thing. We ask AI to help and it does its best. We declare bankruptcy on our tasks, find a new tool that will make this so much easier.

We repeat.

But it need not be this way. All you need for effective task management is to know two things:

And the simple, familiar, ordinary calendar elegantly solved this long ago (and with much less venture capital funding).

The struggle of learning to use a calendar is a bit like dieting: difficult at first, but once you get started and prove to yourself you can follow the diet for a day or two, you build some momentum. Each time you put something on your calendar and follow your schedule, you put a tick in the metaphorical column for being the type of person who follows their schedule and gets things done. Eventually, it becomes a matter of identity that you do the things on your calendar. It becomes a habit. And habits borne from identity are very sticky.

After A While

Humans are notoriously bad at estimating time, which is why after some time doing the things on your calendar becomes really fun.

Things snowball from here. You can start looking at your week ahead, responding to people more quickly, and showing up for your things on time (or early). You'll transfer your skills of showing up for others at the right time, to showing up for your own stuff at the right time, and be more consistent at both. This will start to improve your relationships, and word will get around that you're the type of person who does what they say they're going to do (🫢).

Anyway - if you already do this - congrats! Task management has always been a fascination of mine. I've tried almost every strategy and app you can think of, but some time ago I landed at this (obvious) conclusion: less is more. A calendar is all I need.

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