Task lists are often tiered. The simplest tiered system includes a general to-do list (or task-holding file) to record all the tasks the person needs to accomplish, and a daily to-do list which is created each day by transferring tasks from the general to-do list.
Task lists are often prioritized:
A daily list of things to do, numbered in the order of their importance, and done in that order one at a time until daily time allows, is attributed to consultant Ivy Lee (1877-1934) as the most profitable advice received by Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939), president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
An early advocate of “ABC” prioritization was Alan Lakein, in 1973. In his system “A” items were the most important (“A-1” the most important within that group), “B” next most important, “C” least important. A particular method of applying the ABC method assigns “A” to tasks to be done within a day, “B” a week, and “C” a month.
To prioritize a daily task list, one either records the tasks in the order of highest priority, or assigns them a number after they are listed (“1” for highest priority, “2” for second highest priority, etc.) which indicates in which order to execute the tasks. The latter method is generally faster, allowing the tasks to be recorded more quickly.
Another way of prioritizing compulsory tasks (group A) is to put the most unpleasant one first. When it‘s done, the rest of the list feels easier. Groups B and C can benefit from the same idea, but instead of doing the first task (which is the most unpleasant) right away, it gives motivation to do other tasks from the list to avoid the first one.
A completely different approach which argues against prioritising altogether was put forward by British author Mark Forster in his book “Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management”. This is based on the idea of operating “closed” to-do lists, instead of the traditional “open” to-do list. He argues that the traditional never-ending to-do lists virtually guarantees that some of your work will be left undone. This approach advocates getting all your work done, every day, and if you are unable to achieve it helps you diagnose where you are going wrong and what needs to change.
Why Make a Task List?
How you keep track of the work you have to do can have a great impact on how effectively you manage your time. Making a written list (called a “task list” or “to-do list”) of everything that needs to get done is a simple, yet amazingly powerful, strategy. In fact, students who have attended our time management programs have consistently rated the task list as THE single most effective time planning tool.
One of the most useful aspects of task listing is that it provides a reality check for students at both ends of the spectrum of workload stress. A few students feel overwhelmed and stressed out because they overestimate how much work they have to do and the time needed to do it. Making a task list enables these students to get a realistic picture of their workload and helps them to realize it’s more manageable than they assumed or imagined.
Task listing provides an equally important reality check for students who underestimate their workload and have a serious lack of awareness of how much work there really is to do. They habitually put things off with the assumption that they’ll have time to do it “later,” and as a result end up always being behind and handing work in late, or not at all.
Making a list of academic tasks on a regular basis provides several other benefits:
You’ll be less likely to forget even minor tasks
You can determine which tasks have high priority and need to be done first, ensuring that deadlines will be met
You’ll have both a short- and long-range view of the work coming up
You may procrastinate less when you have a realistic idea of how much work needs to be done