☐ He died with a todo list in his hand ...

Posted on June 3, 2021 by Noon van der Silk

A classic Australian movie: A nightmare chase through hell in a never-ending, unrequited daisy chain of desire… .

What is time? How do we measure a life? How many things did you get done today? What are you working on tomorrow!? Can you come hang out on Sunday!!?

Recently, and also always, I’ve been thinking about how to manage a list of todos. During an internal knowledge-sharing session at work I was prompted to reflect on all the different schemes I’ve tried:

Right now I’m back to a whiteboard (by luck I happen to have one behind me where I work), and ‘todo’ notes in code + github issues.

My friend Ruth told me something that perhaps is very obvious but was also surprisingly calming to me: You’ll die with items on your todo list. So don’t worry about it!

I think there’s a few ways to think about this:

  1. The optimisic view: Amazing that I am lucky enough to have things I intend to do and look forward to!
  2. The pessimistic view: Sad that I had goals that I was never able to achieve!
  3. The Buddhist view: Your big mistake is having desires at all!

I want to live around option (3) and (1) at the moment, but of course option (2) is a very very strong driving force; and often necessary (for example, at work!); the only time I was brave enough to enact option (3) at a work setting was when I ran my own business!

Another interesting thing that came up as part of the work discussion was that in some ways what you want to do depends on your mood. No doubt! So … maybe mood can be a parameter?!

I think, secretly, for the rest of my life, I will believe that there is a True answer out there; an ultimate organisation scheme; the Four-Fold path to Life Efficiency: Right Editing, Right Organisation, Right Workflow and Right History.

But I also think that I should never think about this again. But on the other hand, I was inspired at the talk today; so I might give task-warrior another go.

But, you didn’t come here for that! Maybe you came here for advice? So, here it is (it’s not even my advice! Gala claims it’s her idea which is probably true):

If you can, don’t even write the thing down; just do it immediately, or, alternatively, convince yourself you don’t need to think about it now.

Maybe it’s part of my personality, but this works surprisingly well for me. Especially if it’s something that I’m working on with someone else; instead of delaying my part, I can just try and make as much progress as I can immediately, and send it back to the other person! Another way of saying this: I can offset storing my todo list to you!

I find this idea to be quite operaitonal; I often find myself using this rule to do something sooner rather than later.

Here’s one thing I know about myself: I can’t be trusted with lists. I get a bit obsessed with organising them. So I’m trying to avoid them these days.