How to Manage Your To-Dos with 6 Folders (1/2)

Portable Scrum or Kanban Board -- Do It Yourself Project; © 2013 Jens R. Woinowski, leanself.org

There are a lot of approaches for managing your to-dos and your to-do list(s). Because to-do lists are inventory, you want to keep them easily manageable. Unfortunately, most ways of doing this you find out there tend to be more complicated than they seem at first sight. Lean has a solution for this problem.

Getting Things Done, for example distinguishes between different projects or areas. I do not find that handy. There is another approach which I liked first, which is called 43 Folders. It is not bad, but I think it is over-processing, because you need to manage one folder for every day of the month and one for each month. I think you mimic a calendar too much to make it helpful.

Applying Lean principles, we can combine and strip down both methods in one go. Behind the following recipe lies the pull principle. It is also an application of the Kanban method (or at least, inspired by it). If you search in the web, you find more such approaches, like Personal Kanban or Agile for Kids.

This is the first simplification: Distinguish only between “job” and “everything else” for categorizing your tasks. Second we are going to use only 6 folders (or lists, or vertical columns of a whiteboard, to make it more Kanban like):

  • Done: This is the best column, put in finished tasks here.
  • Ongoing: What you actually do right now.
  • Today: Put everything on this list you want to do today.
  • This week: Everything you do not want to do today but until next Sunday.
  • This month: To-dos to be done until the last day of the current month.
  • Later: Everything else that needs to be planned.

The most important folder (or column) is “Ongoing.” As long as you have a task in this list, you should finish it. You might want to apply the 5Ds (Do, Delay, Delegate, Delete, Divide), if you have a task in “Ongoing” that is too big. Better even, put only tasks into this folder, which can be completed in at most half a day.

After finishing a task, move it to “Done”. It is best to work on your “Ongoing” folder until it is empty. This way, you reduce task switching waste.

In my next post, I discuss how to pull new to-dos through the folders.

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