To-Do Lists Suck

You start a todo list full of grit, or maybe of excitement. You’re about to get Organized. You write down all the things you have to do, confident that you’ll come back and add more things when you think of it. Or maybe you enter them all into your app or your phone. But then what happens? Do you do all those things? I don’t. I do one or two of them maybe, but mostly, I never look at the todo list. There are so many things on it! It’s overwhelming. Worse, I have to scan the whole list to pick out a thing to do. Or maybe I don’t, but my eyes scan it anyway. And the list is full of things that I don’t really need to do, because it’s so easy to just add extra things, making it harder to pick out things that matter and making me feel more backlogged than I am.

There are two fundamental problems with todo lists. It’s too easy to put an item on a to-do list, and too hard to take one off of one. And looking at your todo list is painful because it puts mental images of all the things you need to do in your head, instead of just one thing.

I have an idea that I believe solves both problems. What about an app that only ever shows you the *most* urgent thing on your list? Then you never see your whole overwhelming list and you don’t need to do any thinking about which thing to do. So how does the list know which thing is the most urgent? By making it harder to add new things to the list. It keeps all your items ordered by urgency, and when you add a new item, it does a binary insert with you as the comparison operator. If you tell it you need to do X, it pick the middle item M on the list and asks you “Is X more urgent than M?”, and then recurses down whichever half of the list you indicated.

Does anyone else want this? I don’t get around to working on it very often. I’m doing an app engine version of it here if you want to help: https://github.com/jmathes/do-just-one-thing (I am not a designer)

 

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4 Responses to To-Do Lists Suck

  1. jpolitz says:

    http://www.nowdothis.com/ is a dumb first cut at only showing you one thing at a time.

  2. aegisknight says:

    I would definitely try that if it were an iOS app or mobile site.

  3. Dana says:

    Yes! I think I was walking around on practically the same day you posted this going, “I want to build a better To Do list.” Only I’m not a developer (yet!). Is there an example application?

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