When It’s Okay to Keep Two Task Lists

(Get your printable daily task list here.)

Daily Task List - printable
Printable daily task list

No, it’s not when you’re working as a double agent. And it’s not when you can’t find the first one you wrote this morning, so you’d like to write another.

In general, you will get more done with less stress when you keep one task list. Choose paper, digital program, smart phone, or whatever you like, but keep one master list.

There is an exception, though. Because most of us have full lives with lots of demands and a hefty chunk of self-imposed deadlines, too, it can be hard to sift though the long master list to find the few things that can actually get done on any given day. This is where a second list can actually be useful.

Your second list is made fresh each day. Ideally, at the end of the day you will consult your master list and choose just three things that you will give priority tomorrow. (Other productivity pros may recommend four items or six; I suggest you begin with three.)  If your task list is strictly for work, make your daily list with just  three work items; if you run a home and care for a family as well as working at a job, you may want three work tasks, three personal tasks, and three home tasks. The next day, begin work on the first task and work until completion, or until it is impossible to progress, for example, when you are waiting for an input from another person. When you are interrupted, return as quickly as possible to the first task on your list.

Actually, this isn’t a revolutionary new method of task management. It’s a revolutionary OLD one, going back to the early twentieth century and PR visionary Ivy Lee. Lee was hired by Charles Schwab, head of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, to increase the productivity of the young steel company’s top managers. The story, now legendary, is well told by Mary Kay Ash in her book Miracles Happen: after a few months, Schwab paid Lee a whopping $35,000 based on the dramatic results his managers were experiencing, the equivalent of some over $500,000 today.

I was inspired to revisit this tried-and-true productivity practice by my friend Janine Adams, a professional organizer in the St. Louis area and owner of Peace of Mind Organizing. Janine created a handy “Today” form where she lists her top four tasks for the following day, plus the daily routines and habits that contribute to her productivity. I revised her list a bit to make the printable one I’ve included for you to try.

Are you inspired to try a version of Ivy Lee’s daily task list? Leave a comment below.

One Response to When It’s Okay to Keep Two Task Lists

  1. I love this list! I dislike the mish-mash of business and personal tasks that I end up with each day on my list…this is a simple, brilliant solution (best kind, in my opinion). I’m going to use the daily habits reminder for habits I’m trying to learn. Thank you!

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