Bit Literacy — part 7 — Todo List Failure

planes-raptor-1312631-l.jpgOne of the key recommendations of Bit Literacy is that one should take todos and schedule them onto lists that belong to particular days. It argues that a single todo list quickly becomes overwhelming, and that the items should instead be allocated to lists that belong to separate days in the future.

It’s not a bad approach, and represents an improvement over the raw todo list.  For a user with a certain, low number of time demands, it could function well.

Above a certain number of time demands, however, this technique also becomes overwhelmed, especially when a user attempts to attach priorities to each item on each day, as recommended by Bit Literacy.

The reason this happens has everything to do with the failure of todo lists to cope with the volume of time demands that working professionals have to deal with in todays’ working world.

The major shortcoming of todo lists is that they force users to keep mental schedules.

This works against one of the general purposes of time management systems which is to keep as little in memory as possible, and as much as possible in some kind of system, whether it be electronic or paper-based.

If we could climb inside the mind of a user of todo lists for a moment, we would see that when they try to schedule a todo for a particular day, they actually do a mental scan of what they have to do each day, before assigning the todo to that day.

Because the scan of their mental schedule is a memory-based activity, it is likely to be faulty.

Also, when the user assigns priorities to a task, they are encouraged by Bit Literacy and other systems to work on the higher priority items first.

In other words, they are using the priority system as a rough method for scheduling.  It’s a method that’s unlikely to work for long, because it ignores many other variables such as the user’s physical location,  the length of the task, it’s due date, who else needs to be involved, what information is needed, etc. All these factors must be considered in the heat of the moment, as a user makes a decision about what to work on next.

It’s also not uncommon for someone to end up with enough high priority items to fill an entire week.  At that point, the priority system becomes useless — 100 items of the highest priority obviously means that nothing is a priority.

Some systems do try harder to make the priority approach work, and try to use all the variables it can include to derive a composite score. But at the end of all the computations, it’s easier to upgrade one’s approach to scheduling, and to move from a mental schedule to an electronic one that requires no system of priorities whatsoever. Out the window goes A’s, B’, C’s and 1’s, 2’s and 3’s.

In comes more advanced, simpler skills, and a schedule that looks like what we call here in 2Time and Orange Belt schedule rather than a White Belt schedule. (See the Article on Scheduling for more details.)

For professionals who must deal with a great number of time demands, this is the only approach that helps them to deal with a significant number of time demands.

To borrow a term from Bit Literacy, it’s also the only approach that “scales,” or in other words can be used to handle time demands at all volumes.