What my master to-do list looks like – Workflowy and GTD

In previous posts on my to-do lists and how I organize my life, I’ve talked about my master to-do list. This, and many of my other productivity practices, come from a book called Getting Things Done by David Allen (also know as GTD…Allen’s productivity ways have a bit of a cult-like following). For people, like me, who organize themselves in a linear/logical way, I highly recommend the read. It’s been years since I read it back at SFU (thanks Chris Koch for the recommendation) but here are some of the principles that I still use:

  1. Brain dump. Every once in a while, give yourself time to write down everything that is on your mind that you have to do/want to do/have ideas about. The idea is to get things out of your head and free up the time you spend running things over and over again in your mind in order to remember. (From the GTD website: Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”)
  2. Categorize your to-dos. For the things on your plate that you want to accomplish in this moment, identify the next action that needs to be taken. Be specific. The categories I use are: send #email, make #call, #read, #write, take action on the #web, take action #offline on my computer, #do something at home off my computer, run an #errand, and #waitingfor (things I don’t have to do, but are waiting for from others).

To keep this all organized, I use Workflowy. This is a website/app that allows you to create really long to-do lists, with multiple bullet levels that you can expand/contract/click on. You can use #hashtags (as above) to tag items on the list. And if you are working with others, you can @people for things to show up on their lists. It’s like the Twitter of to-do lists.

Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like:


And what it looks like when I click on a tag:

Workflowy tag

I love Workflowy because of how simple and clean it is. When you click on a tag or a list heading, everything unrelated disappears. It’s really beautiful.

A daily to-do list I’ve stuck with for 6 months. Might work for you too.

I came across the 1-3-5 to-do list on the great productivity/creativity blog 99u (a lovely, quick daily read if you’re a productivity/creativity nerd like me).

Here’s how it works: The method assumes that every day you have enough time/energy for 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 small things.

For me, I approach assigning the size of a task with both how much time it will take me and how much energy it will take. Some things that won’t take long but I’m absolutely dreading might be a 1. Some things that take a bit longer but are super easy and fun may be a 5. There’s lots of room for personal customization in this system.

So, everyday I write down


and draw up my daily list.

On the schedule for today:
1 Music night (time with friends counts too!)
3 Read Engaged City Task Force final report, and draft a response
3 Lunch with Meriko
3 Draft notes for an AGM I’m taking part in next week
5 Move notes from my desktop into proper files
5 Review a pile of old articles from my Masters research for potential blog posts
5 Scrub bathroom floor
5 Go for a run
5 Reply to an internship applicant who wanted feedback on their interview/application

Some days I don’t get everything done — I’m exhausted or I have an unexpected visitor, etc. So some things carry over into the weekends. Unless absolutely necessary, I try to not to schedule work-like things (basically anything that requires me to be at a computer) for the weekends, but if I’m not as productive during the week, I might have to.

Alternatively, sometimes I get more than the list done. Today for example, I had a phone call with Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore to talk about a potential event for Canadian Women Voters Congress. I also wrote this post, which is actually something I meant to do yesterday.

My daily to do list is one of the few things that I keep on paper. Here’s what a week of to do lists looks like (the few notes at the top are *ahem* carry over from a lazy end to the week last week):


I draw all of my to-dos from my big MASTER to do list, which I keep on a free online tool called Workflowy. More on the amazeballs that is Workflowy in another post.

Some people start their weeks looking at their master to-do lists, and choosing 5 big things, 15 medium things, and 25 small things to do throughout the week. you can find templates for this online if you search for it. I like more flexibility.

How do you coordinate your to-do lists?