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The Keys to Time-Management (Part 4): Tasks & To-Dos

In part 4 of the Keys to Time Management series, we’re going to start to look at what is probably the most complex of all the elements of time management to set up and customize.

Solid Time Management largely depends on effectively managing your tasks and to-dos, and executing them. No matter how solidly your calendar supports you, without an effective system for Task Management that is set up to help you manage all the things you want to, need to, and may someday do, it’s impossible to use your 3 precious resources of time, energy and focus effectively and efficiently.

Get more tips to take control of your time and your to-dos in Part 4 of my The Keys to Time Management series below.

The Gears in the Time-Management Machine

As I explained in Part 1 of the Keys to Time Management series (here), effective time-management system isn’t really a single system, but a complex and interwoven set of tools, skills and behaviors.

to do list

And, having a system to manage all the things (and there are so very many!) that you need to do, want to do, or may someday want to explore in some sort of organized way that makes it easier for you to execute, is probably the most complex piece of time management. In a nutshell, that’s

Task Management

How well we manage the things we have to do in our lives is an integral part of the bigger picture of time-management. Even if we work hard and improve our sense of time, our calendar management, and our thinking about our own abilities, this “Task Management” piece can be a big disconnect for many of us, and the weak link in the proverbial chain of time-management.

Without an effective system in place for managing our to-dos in a way that we can easily and consistently execute them, we are constantly playing catch-up, squeezing in what we can to dig ourselves out from under the mountain of things we need to take care of, and feeling constant stress of those “forgotten” items that won’t come back into our awareness until they become another crisis to manage, and another fire to put out.

Task Management Fundamentals

There are two fundamental components to managing tasks effectively: a trusted means of capture and retrieval, and creating routines and habits.

Establishing a trusted means to capture (or store) the things you need to do is essential to alleviating stress, and making sure that things don’t fall off your radar. Recording the things you need to do in some reliable form that you can retrieve is the cornerstone to a good task management system. It is this reliable capture and retrieval system that gets the barrage of things you have to do out of your mind, out of your unreliable working memory. It alleviates stress and frees up your mind to focus on what really matters.

I’m talking about is creating an effective “to-do list” mechanism.

Unfortunately, many of my clients have not successfully learned how to set up a to-do list in a way that is very helpful for them, so I often hear things like, “I have a million to-do lists!,” or worse…

“Lists never work for me!”

We’ve all made lists before, with varying degrees of success. If you’re in the habit of writing things down (or recording them electronically), but it isn’t working for you, I don’t want you to lose that habit. It’s a good one!

Whether you’re capturing your to-dos on paper or electronically in some way, the fact of the matter is that is must be organized, trustworthy and done in a way that works for you, based on your unique strengths, tendencies and natural ways of doing things. Those are all “to-do lists” in some way, and the fact of the matter is that they DO work when you know how to set them up and use them in ways that work for you.

Here are a few, small things you can do differently that can make any “to-do list” (or app or whatever) work more effectively for you:

Never, EVER use loose paper or sticky notes

Your “to-do list” can be either electronic or in good, old-fashioned paper-and-pen form, but what is important is that it is recorded somewhere that you will not lose it, and that you will know where it is when you need it. Not on sticky notes. And NOT on random, loose pieces of paper! If you take nothing else from this article, your productivity will be dramatically improved if you simply adhere to this one principle:  No more loose paper!

Don’t get me wrong:  I love my sticky notes but, in and of themselves, they are not a reliable means of capturing your to-dos! Sticky notes stick to more than just their intended target, and they become un-sticky, too. Plus, loose pieces of paper and sticky notes do very little to alleviate the stress and worry that a trusted system for capturing your tasks will.

Create a List you can Trust

We’ve all made lists (either paper or electronic), but if we can’t find these lists when we need them, they can’t help us. So, put your list in a dedicated notepad, notebook, or electronic device, for starters. (And before you ask, it has been my experience, both professionally and personally, that whether you choose an electronic or paper version of a to-do list is much less important than the way you use the list. It is simply a matter of personal preference.)

Use your list

A “to-do list” also can’t help you if you don’t use it. Get into the habit of recording the things you need to do as you become aware of them (which is facilitated by keeping your list with you as much as possible) is really important. This is where those sticky notes really do come in handy! Sticky notes can be a great “vehicle” for transporting information from one place to another—temporarily. I keep a packet of sticky notes in my purse, in my bathroom vanity, and in my nightstand at all times for jotting down things down as they “pop-in” to my mind temporarily–until I can capture them in my list, safe and sound.

Make Habits for your List

Creating habits for reviewing and “managing” the list is just as important as creating the list. (And, yes, you do need to learn to “manage” the list that “manages” your to-dos!)  For starters, I recommend reviewing the list at least once daily (preferably more) so that you can remove the tasks that have been completed, and determine which tasks still need attention. Your list will be in a constant state of flux and will need to be maintained for you to be able to manage your life with less stress and more productivity. Try looking for repeatable times each day to check your list, such as with your first cup of coffee in the morning or before you go to bed at night. Attaching the list-maintenance to behaviors you’re already doing regularly can make the habit easier to create.

Next week, I’ll explore how you can tame your to-do list, create priorities, and how to make sure you’re actually tackling the tasks on the list so that you can keep it from growing exponentially!

Surprisingly, how you record the tasks on your list really does make a difference in your ability to execute those tasks!

Until then, grab a notebook or notepad or your favorite tool, and start a new habit! (But, whatever you do, do NOT grab a random, piece of scrap, back of an envelop or any other loose piece of paper! You know how that ends…)

Take care,

Lynne Edris



Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach

P.S. If you struggle to keep track of and keep up with your to-dos in a way that helps you execute them more easily, stop struggling on your own! I’m here to help you and a small group of your peers! Check out my Unleashed! 90-Day Time Management Mentoring Group at

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