Which to-dos should you be working on?

A frequently asked question.


The paralegal’s to-do list is endless (as is the to-do list of a solicitor or trainee). A frequently asked question is “what should I be working on?”. Not just for me, but for all my colleagues.

Scottish guy took me through a to-do method that he was taught on an “organisation training day” he attended with work last week and it looked something like what is pictured above. I have seen similar methods, involving the use of post its to prioritise but this was the first time I had tried it.

Basically there are 4 categories of to-dos:
– important/urgent
– not important/urgent
– important/not urgent
– not important/not urgent.

Ideally, you should always be working in the important/not urgent category.

How did I get on?

I tried this for the first time today – I kept on top of my inbox (most new emails and jobs went straight into the “important/not urgent” category) and dealt with all my “important/urgent” jobs and got through a lot of the “important/not urgent” ones. I was surprised at how much time I actually spend on not important jobs when I have important ones on my desk.

So far so good. Will review the method again in a week.

Want to give it a go? Here’s what to do:

1. Think of all the things you need to do over a two week period.
2. Write them down on post-its.
3. Stick them in the relevant categories. (This is the important bit.)
4. Start working on them. No more procrastination.
5. Delegate the not important/not urgent jobs.
6. Update and review – move the post-its around.


Restyled: Disposable To-Do List

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As many of my regular readers  may remember, last year (and up to recently) I have been using my so called disposable to-do list. However, I have taken a new approach to this in recent weeks using my Emma Bridgewater Notebook. The notebook is a nice pocket sized notebook suitable for carrying round everywhere, but prettier than the previous reporter’s notebooks.

What I do:

Each double page (ie opened pages) is a “category” of To-dos. Rather than simply list everything on the one page, I’ve split them up into categories, although we still just use a running list to record the information. This means if you want to tackle a particular type of to-do it is easy to find.  At the moment I have 2 sets of categories, the first includes things like:

  • job applications
  • general online
  • blog
  • get in contact with
  • money
  • sign language
  • work

All of which are particular types of tasks as they relate to or are for a specific purpose. However, the second set of categories is for if I know when I want to do something. For example I have an “on the train” list for things I know I can do while passing time on the train. Another example would be if it is a big task and I can’t fit it in on a working day it gets put on my “for the weekend” list for example my current entries are:

  • get my tyres checked
  • fill up with petrol (post payday); and
  • Paint something.

Why is this better?

This is better than the disposable to do list where you have to hunt through the list for something you can do at that moment in time. This list method allows you to select things depending on where you are or what sort of a mood you are in, without imposing any deadline restrictions as the principles of free form, striking things out and the fact you can do any thing anytime taken from the disposable to-dos still applies.

Everyone makes to-dos so complicated, over-complicated when in reality all you need to do is jot it down, this method keeps this – you are simply jotting it down, but you simply flick over the page and jot it down, starting a new category if there are no similar categories in your notebook.

disposable to – dos: Using the list method to GTD

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As I have blogged before I have been using a desk diary to keep track of my to do list and deadlines. A few months on (I started this in June) I decided changes needed to be made. The diary is great when I have deadlines or need to do a particular task on a particular day (and I continue to use it for that) however I have found it to be not so great when it comes to general to dos which have no particular deadline.

With the diary method I would just pick a day to do the task. Frequently I would not actually get it done or find that I couldn’t do it on that particular day. For example I wrote – order my graduation gown and then in the process of doing this realised I need to measure my head circumference. As I don’t own a tape measure and couldn’t seem to find any string, I had to put this to do on hold until I could acquire the string (I still have not acquired such string). Of course using the diary method I would cross it out and write it in the next day or on a day I knew I would have found some string by. However with this task and certain other tasks they can move for several days before I would get them done and this can end up looking quite messy. However, I can’t just leave it on the original date and not tick it off as it is likely to get lost in the see of information and never get done.

The Solution

So the past week or so I’ve been trying out the list method using a 50p notebook from Tescos.

Basically what you are aiming to do is write down a list on the page of all the things you need to do, this works best using only items that down have a deadline as it doesn’t really matter when you do them. I also keep this notebook in work as I’ve a habit of remembering things that need doing while I’m in work and can quickly note them down. With the list down on paper I can check what I need to do, and add things as they come into my head.

I simply work from that list doing whatever I can during that day or sometimes even just parts of to-do items and then cross off/strike out what I have down.

Then either at the end of the day or first thing on the train to work I rewrite the list using only the things that I have yet to do, ready to have a crack at them the next time I have a chance. Of course you don’t have to write it up each day if your list isn’t that crowded – the point that you should rewrite is basically when you are finding it difficult to pick out what has not been done yet, and this point varies for everyone.

This is an easy simplistic method of sitting down and working your way through your to do list, while allowing you to assess it on the move. I frequently will deal with a lot of my to-dos on the train and it is nice and handy to have them all set out in the notebook so I can do as much or as little as I wish to do that day.

Mini Task

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This is a simple to-do list: MiniTask. I know everyone favours a to-do list one way or another, but currently – I’m using this one. It’s cute, tiny and simple to use. Each section headed in green drops down into a to-do list setting out the task – and you simply tick them off when you are done. easy. Loads of little tricks you can do with it (see website); but it simply gets the job done.

Sticky Tabs

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Okay, so I use the somewhat old-school method of post its everywhere – on my desk, my books, my laptop etc and I’ll admit it gets a bit messy and out of control at times, which is why the hunt for a digital alternative is on going.

The Mac has got great desktop sticky note capabilities, very neat and tidy. And my favourite notebook software Circus ponies (also for the mac) has great post-it notes (although they only work in notebook itself and not when you export).

Unfortunately I don’t have a mac, and windows options have left me disappointed. Next stop: the online world?

Postica: Obviously the downside of any webapp is the requirement to be signed in.You are required to sign into their site to use. But Postica works nicely – cute little post-it notes, with the ability to attach things, and arrange whatever way you like. Straight-forward and simple – no fuss.

My Stickies: appears to be an alternative, allowing you to place stickies on the web. Sounds great – haven’t had the opportunity to try it out yet as it is not compatible with the latest version of firefox.

Other sticky notes for the desktop appear to be available from: free sticky notes which appear in a similar format to that of the mac. and of course the official post it notes version.