Why you rank too many tasks as high importance, and how the One-minute To-Do List (1MTD) puts you back in control of your task list
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: I didn’t get everything I wanted to get done yesterday.
If you’re like most folks, there’s simply not enough hours in the day to do all the important things.
So you sit down and try to figure out “What do I need to do today?”. On top of yesterday’s leftovers and the stuff you had planned for today, your email inbox counter is still ticking up. And that’s before the phone call from your boss, a customer, or a colleague reporting a problem.
So your task list keeps growing with all these important tasks to do.
When the list gets too long, you feel demoralized because it’s so much work to make progress. Everything is important, so how do you know what’s the most important item to focus on now? Or — maybe — if everything is important, then nothing is.
So you get frustrated and overwhelmed, feeling guilty for not being able to keep up. And so you give up with a sense that it just isn’t working.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. A to-do list, if done right, really can be the solution.
Well prepare yourself for the 60-second approach that will put you back in control.
Why does it seem like all your tasks are important?
The One Minute To-Do List is a quick implementation of Master Your Now (MYN). Michael Linenberger created these to manage his increasing scope leading teams at Accenture, the U.S. Peace Corps, and more. After seeing others struggle with overwhelming tasks, he began training people in his systems in 2006.
The key insight? Most people don’t measure importance correctly.
Why does this happen? Well let’s look at a few tasks you might have on your task list:
- It’s important for me to take the trash out today because it’s trash pickup day
- It’s important for me to prep for this presentation because it’ll help my career
- It’s important for me to workout today for my long-term health and wellness
- It’s important for me to call my family members to see how they’re doing
- It’s important for me to setup a social get-together for a set of friends I haven’t seen in a long time
- It’s important for me follow public issues and vote in the upcoming elections
I could go on, but the point is these aren’t the same level of importance. If you ask yourself “Is this important?” your answer will be “yes” too often. And you’ve lost control.
The 1MTD system uses one and only one of the above criteria as a means for identifying what goes into each priority: urgency. There is no confusion—you simply have to ask yourself the question: “Is it is absolutely, positively due today?”
This unequivocal criterion of urgency is the main reason this to-do list is so simple and so usable. And the fact that it keeps the high-priority section from overflowing gives you faith in the list. It’s also why so many people are successful with the 1MTD system
OK, so how does 1MTD work?
Simply, it’s a fast way of dumping all the things in your brain that have been nagging you in a way to focus on what you can do now.
Here’s how to get started:
- Grab two blank sheets of paper and a pen.
- On one sheet, draw a line horizontally across the center.
- Label the top section “Critical Now” → List anything that is absolutely due today. Just consider what is making you nervous today. Think about what would impact you negatively if you did not complete them today. Keep in mind, this list may be empty; only write tasks that absolutely must be done today.
- Label the bottom section “Opportunity Now” → List tasks here that you would work on now if you had the time. Include things that may be due tomorrow, or later this week, or even as far out as ten days.
- On the second sheet, write “Over-the-Horizon” across the top → Write down anything that can wait ten days or more for you to get to. Items here are obviously your slow-burn items. Even though they are beyond your “concern horizon” (hence Over-the-Horizon), it’s good to record them so you do not lose them. They may become more urgent later.
- To keep the system simple, follow these limits:
- Keep five or fewer items in the Critical Now list.
- Keep 20 or fewer items in the Opportunity Now list.
- Move everything else to the Over-the-Horizon list.
- Carry this list with you everywhere you go. Put it in your pocket; or if you carry a paper calendar journal, slip it in the front of it. You will feel the stress drain off your day as you start to realize you’ve got everything together now.
That’s how the system works in principle. The truth is, it is deceptively simple. But don’t let the simplicity of the system fool you; this approach is incredibly powerful.
So, what have you really just done? Well, first of all, you have probably lowered your stress level greatly.
If any of your to-dos bouncing around in your head caused you anxiety, you’ve now confidently got them in one compact list. You can rely on the list because the first page has all you need to worry about today, with the things urgently due today right at the top.
This short list is your “concern list” for today.
You’ve also created a place to store slow-burn items (the second page)—items that you’d like to get recorded and off your mind.
This to-do list approach is particularly useful because it emphasizes urgency. Urgency causes your stress level to rise at work, and urgency is what you should manage first. This system addresses that directly.
You can implement these systems in Toodledo easily (or even automatically, as we’ll show you in the next step in this mini-series). Read on to learn about the more fully-featured implementation, Master Your Now!.