Optimize, don't Organize: Part 6

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Start at Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here

6. Why most task lists don’t work


As a rule, task lists don’t work. They become cluttered, out of date and full of things we never intend on doing. 

Why digital lists don’t work.

Digital lists are too easy to add to. We add things that aren’t important, things that we don’t need to remember and things we feel we “should” do, but never will. Worse than that is that tasks are too easy to strike off. With a click of a mouse or a swipe of a finger we can permanently erase our failure to complete something that we originally thought was important enough to add in the first place.  With every second person owning a smart phone, digital tasks lists are popular for their portability and convenience. Whilst it may be great to remember what you needed to buy down the shop, organizing your work in a digital list is always going to end in tears. If it’s too easy to fill with clutter, and too easy to remove our failures, we won’t trust it. If we don’t trust it, we won’t use it.

Why pen and paper doesn’t work.

I have too many notebooks. I take notes in meetings, I take notes on the phone and I take notes when I’m programming. I don’t need a todo list on my desk as well. Pen and paper tasks lists are also the worst for maintainability. As your tasks are crossed off your list becomes more and more messy. This either forces you to regularly rewrite your list, or to throw it out entirely. You can’t sort, you can’t undo, you scribble phone messages in the corner and worst of all you most likely can’t read your own writing. We write something down in a hurry and are later left wondering, “what’s ‘sulmif buffon’?”

Why whiteboards don’t work.

Whiteboards are the worst. Even someone with the best penmanship can’t write for shit on a whiteboard. The whiteboard suffers from all the same problems as pen and paper but without any of benefits. Possibly the only thing in favour of a whiteboard is also its biggest drawback - the ability to erase. It might be handy to be scrub off that completed task, but it’s also just as easy to accidently remove your whole weeks work. Somewhat contradictorily, whiteboards are also a magnet for old information. Unlike a paper list which we may eventually throw out, a whiteboard tends to collect things that nobody ever thinks to wipe off. Out of date information is the worst kind.


Coming up:

7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.