Your Task list is failing. This is why.

It is irrelevant if you believe in GTD or not. If you use Omnifocus, Nozbe, Things or you write your tasks on your arm. The reality is that your task list is failing you and had failed you for years. In part it is because we don’t know how to say NO. In part is that we are simply trying to decided over a huge number of options. In most cases the confusion is the abundance of the second and a lot of the first one.
As years past by, my tasks increased at a ridiculous speed, in my GTD System there are more and more projects, tasks and time seems to be less and less.
I had mention on my book “25 Tips for Productivity” how my daily list works, but I have never talk about what I called my Master List.
My Master List had all those projects and tasks that I hope to accomplish. Most likely is like the list of Projects and Tasks that you have. The difference is that you work from that list and hope to finish it. For me, the Master List is the base where everything begin, but I apply one more filter. From the Master List to the Working List.
My Master List had all those active projects and all those pending tasks (next actions) per context, as per David Allen wrote in his GTD Book. The problem of this, is that the number of next actions are simply impossible to digest, is like trying to drink water from a firetruck hose… I prefer water from a filter, with a glass, in manageable quantities. For that, I process my Master List, on a smaller list, my Working List.
Every Morning I review my projects and next actions and mark those that should go to the Working List. This allow me that instead of 60 next actions, maybe they had five. The five that I consider relevant. Is from this smaller list that I pick the 3 most important.
Honestly I don’t have a criteria for how many tasks goes to the Working List, if after I add them to the list I think they are too many, I simply reduce them. The objective is to clear this list in two or three days.
It is a mathematical problem, if we have an average of 100 projects and each one had 1 next action we had 100 actions. In reality we have in average two actions per project plus all those that requiere one action that most likely don’t have a project per se. Buy Milk? Bread? My list is over 600 of them.
My calculation and experience said that a complete GTD System had more or less between 200 to 500 next actions.
Here comes the problem, doesn’t matter how you split this, the number is always more than what you can digest… more than what we can do to feel successful… therefore we can’t conquest that feeling of success. In many cases we just quit the system.
Now imagine that maintaining your system as it is, you work on a list from your Master List to work on the next day or two; a Working List.
Imagine the following number of pending actions:
Master List
@Home (45)
@Computer (60)
@Errands (30)
@Agendas (25)
@Calls (20)
@Work (80)
A total of 260 opportunities. In my case, that’s something complex to digest. Now imagine that from the Master List you select those that will produce a mayor impact in the short term and make a second list, based on your Master List; a Working list.
Working List
@Home (8)
@Computer (10)
@Errands (30)
@Agendas (25)
@Calls (20)
@Work (20)
Now I have 113 opportunities. But note that I didn’t eliminate opportunities from Agendas, Errands or Calls. In my reduction plan, I kept the elements that include Calls, Agendas and Errands because they can be done. But let’s see the reduction on the other contexts.
@Home: From 45 to 8.
@Computer From 60 to 10.
@Work From 80 to 20.
In other words, from 185 opportunities to 38… A huge difference. I am not implying that we aren’t going to finish the other tasks, but imagine for a moment the feeling if success if you finish those 20 @Work Tasks or the 38 of the three lists.
Not only that, imagine that you for any reason had 20 free minutes. From where do you think you have a better chance to pick an appropriate next action, from a list of 20 or from one of 80?
Like any other Tip for Productivity, the key is not forget theMaster List. In my case, I CAN’T add anything to the Working List. Tasks must be added to the Master List.
Be able to see my lists, per contexts, but knowing that there is a smaller number of next actions, had allowed me to move faster and more accurately. In any moment I am denying the importance of the other next actions on the Master List, I am just trying to focus into an smaller area to be more productive and effective, get smaller but more often victories, you know feel that I win this game more often.
If your Task List is failing you, what are you doing so you can make it effective again?