Todo or Not Todo

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If you are looking for the typical customer to whom all the app makers creating the infinite number of todo applications then look no further! Guilty as charged, I am one of those folks whom seems to be addicted to todo lists and todo app addicts.

I tried many of them and I am always seemed to be hooked on the greatest and latest todo app. One impresses me with the gorgeous design, the other with the revolutionary way of handling the items with clever gestures, the next with its speed of light synchronization between devices. In todo land, there is never a dull moment! I even have blocked out half an hour every two weeks just to see and try what’s new on the todo app market (just joking)!

One day then I read this article written by Jeff Atwood at coddinghorror:

Eventually I realized that the problem wasn’t me. All my to-do lists started out as innocuous tools to assist me in my life, but slowly transformed, each and every time, into thankless, soul-draining exercises in reductionism. My to-do list was killing me.

For the things in my life that actually mattered, I’ve never needed any to-do list to tell me to do them. If I did, then that’d be awfully strong evidence that I have some serious life problems to face before considering the rather trivial matter of which to-do lifehack fits my personality best. As for the things that didn’t matter in my life, well, those just tended to pile up endlessly in the old to-do list. And the collective psychic weight of all these minor undone tasks were caught up in my ever-growing to-do katamari ball, where they continually weighed on me, day after day.

The false promise of these apps that they will solve none of my problems… the list just makes me more and more depressed when facing the ever growing group of tasks with missed deadlines. Once they grew big enough they were starting to live a life on their own and captured all my focus and attention, leaving no way to deal anything other than the list, leaving no place for fun and creativity at all!

I took Jeff’s advice to my heart and radically reduced the size of my todo list to one item and even went further and created my own rule:

There is only one or less items on my task list at any given day!

Being a geek though, I need some sense of progress here. I had an urge to track and measure things. I need some proof that I am achieving something each day. I guess, I am not only one with this problem:

Between starting Netscape, Opsware, Ning, and Andreessen Horowitz, Marc Andreessen has done monumental work in his career and seems particularly at risk to fall into this trap. To arm himself against the daunting imperative of making meaningful progress toward his big objectives, Marc came up with a system:
the Anti-Todo List. It’s his way to stop and recognize his own accomplishments, measured not by a project’s impressive success, but in increments, to fuel his motivation for getting stuff done day after day.

Marc’s way of doing this is rather ingenious:

What you do is this: every time you do something — anything — useful during the day, write it down in your Anti-Todo List on the card.
Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet.
And then at the end of the day, … take a look at today’s card and its Anti-Todo list and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.

It turns out that this small change in process do wonders. At the end of the day, it is really warm and fuzzy feeling to look at the list and as the list grows over time it does not become frustrating or depressing, but it feels rather good to see the mass of things I achieved over the last couple of weeks. In fact, it works so well that I am now capable of letting go the task list and do a zero task day! I guess the quote from Jacobi the famous mathematician fits here wonderfully well - Invert, always invert!