The challenges of having to-do lists

, 4 minutes to read, 250 views

I’d like to think that I’m a pretty productive person. I get things done, I work full time, and I still have some time for my life. And please be assured, this will not be any kind of productivity hacks or hustle culture post. I’m personally not a big fan, and I think relaxation is very important. Furthermore, other people have written about it, in better ways than I ever could.

But I would like to share a recent finding I had. Both at work and in my personal life.

To-do lists are awesome

When it comes to organizing my life, I use two main tools. I have a calendar that I religiously fill. I use Fantastical on all available platforms because it has this one view I have not found anywhere else. It has a prominent mini calendar that indicates your availability during a week or a month, followed by an agenda list. That’s it—simple and clean. This gives me the ability to use the calendar in such a way as to see my next appointments (or meetings or drinks with friends) as well as give a general overview.

For my to-do list, I currently use Things, although I have used Todoist for a long time. To-do list applications help monitor what I need to do (and sometimes also when to do it). What is most important for me is that I can use this app, my to-do list, on all my devices, which in my case is mostly a laptop and phone.

For me, to-do lists are all about keeping things simple and real. They’re like my daily game plan, helping me sort out what needs to get done, from the small stuff to the big deals. It’s about making a big pile of tasks feel less scary by breaking them down into bite-sized pieces. And, you know, there’s a real dopamine kick I get from crossing things off the list—it’s like a mini-high-five with myself. It keeps me rolling and takes some chaos out of my day.

To-do lists should be done on purpose

Let’s face it: unfortunately, the to-do lists that are most prominent in our lives are not the ones we control. It’s the e-mail inboxes; it’s the slack and team messages and bills sent in the mail. And we have more and more of these. I have about 4 messaging apps for my private life1. And I have more for work, which also includes various productivity tools such as Jira and Outlook calendars.

I cannot change my work single-handedly. This actually works quite well, but for the most part, there needs to be a single task list that can be tackled. I think for work there is really a limit to what should be done, not just for my and all my colleagues’ sanity but also for our productivity. I think having one to-do list for working together in a team, as well as an individual one, makes sense. That helps to keep track of stuff while limiting the necessary context changes.

As for my personal life, I try to limit it to a single to-do list. In my case, this is my Things to-do list. But what do you do with all those other things that can be used as to-do lists? I use it quite simply. If I can respond within 30 seconds, I will do it on the spot; otherwise, it goes on my to-do list, as a new task. It’s that simple!

As such, the tasks don’t sit in many inboxes, but either they get handled immediately or goes on the to-do list.

What about tasks that stay on there for too long?

For tasks that are not clear if and when they will be addressed, I use a simple shortcut: dealing with a task doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be completed. It also cannot be relevant anymore. As such, a task is also done.


  1. I use (and have to use for various reasons) Signal, Threema, WhatsApp, normal messages, and so forth. I still have a long way to go in getting rid of some of them. ↩︎

Tags: Application, Productivity, Todo List, Work