Why I make lists for everything.

Alex Mitchell
Jan 21, 2018 · 5 min read

How do you start and end your day?

(Pretty much) every single day, I start and end with a list.

I reflect on the things I accomplished and didn’t accomplish in the past 24 hours. I think forward on the next 24 hours, determine what I want to achieve, and sign a personal contract of sorts using pen and paper.

Depending on the day of the week and the time of year, the type of list varies.

For weekdays, my lists are a combination of reminders, tasks, and questions to answer. On weekends, my lists are more personal.

Lately, they’ve been filled with (endless) home improvement projects, but often, these lists also include reminders to not over-work, focus on my life balance, and make the most of free time.

Why I Love Lists (just a few reasons)

It’s easy to lose your weekend or weeknights watching sports or binging on Netflix.

Lists keep me honest: Did I accomplish the things that I thought were most important today or did I not?

2. They keep me focused

If you write your lists well, they are a forcing mechanism for focusing.

Instead of jumping from task-to-task in no particular order, a list can help you hone in on the most important task until you either run into a wall or it is completed. Both are valid reasons to move-on! (more on this in a bit)

3. They are discrete and trackable

Your list tasks should be clear enough that there is no ambiguity as to what “completed” means.

They should have an output (even if that output is another task or another conversation). Progress itself can be an output, but that progress needs to be discrete and trackable.

4. They feel great to complete

Maybe it’s just me, but checking off a item on my personal or professional list is rewarding. Seeing a completed list at the end of a day is even more fulfilling.

Set yourself up for these personal morale boosters by listing effectively.

How I List

Warning: This may surprise you.

My notebook isn’t this nice.

I don’t track my lists digitally. I get out the old pen and paper to write my lists each and every day.

Why?

My life is technology.

My team at Upside Travel and I spend insane percentages of our waking hours focused on pushing the boundaries of technology to deliver the best possible product and experience for business travelers.

Writing my analog list separates it from the constant flow of Slack messages, JIRA updates, emails, and digital noise.

By taking the time to handwrite my list, I’m also focusing myself on only the major tasks and themes I want to spend my time on.

Here are a few samples of my recent lists (apologies in advance for the penmanship!)

It’s rare that I fully complete a to-do list, but it quickly becomes clear what is worth carrying over or leaving behind.

Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this post, I know you will enjoy the great content at The Modern Product Manager.

www.themodernproductmanager.com

If you prefer books, I think you’d also enjoy Disrupting Yourself (How to Succeed in the New Economy) or Building Digital Products (Handbook for Product Managers).

What I’ve Learned About Lists

Completing a to-do list of meaningless tasks is meaningless. Motion is not progress.

Make sure to think through what is worthy of making it onto your list and what isn’t.

2. Don’t get blocked by your list!

I often find that I can’t complete an item on my list. Either I’m blocked by someone else or I’ve blocked myself.

You need to recognize quickly when this is the case and move on. Don’t let one of your list items block you from completing any of your list.

3. Don’t be afraid to “carry over”

Since you’ll likely be skipping over some list items because you are blocked, your list should be a bit more than you can handle. With this in mind, you’ll likely be carrying over a small number of tasks day to day. This is ok.

You should find the balance where you carry over about 10–20% of your tasks each day.

4. If you “carry over” several times, it probably wasn’t that important anyway

If you habitually carry over that one task, it probably is a signal that it wasn’t that important. Scrub these tasks from your list. There is no value in rewriting something more than 2 or 3 days.

If you really want to preserve the idea, add a calendar reminder a few weeks out. Most of the time, when that reminder pops up, you’ll realize that it wasn’t that important after all.

How Do You List?

I’d love to hear how you maintain your personal and professional to-do lists!

Let me know at: @amitch5903

Frontiers

Stories from the startup journey around the world.

Alex Mitchell

Written by

Product @Kinsured | 5x Product Leader/Founder | Blog: medium.com/@Amitch5903 | Author: @producthandbook @disruptbook | Newsletter: bit.ly/MPMnewsletter

Frontiers

Frontiers

Stories from the startup journey around the world.

Alex Mitchell

Written by

Product @Kinsured | 5x Product Leader/Founder | Blog: medium.com/@Amitch5903 | Author: @producthandbook @disruptbook | Newsletter: bit.ly/MPMnewsletter

Frontiers

Frontiers

Stories from the startup journey around the world.

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