July 26, 2014
By now you know the differences between 1MTD and MYN, which are the two to-do list systems I teach. The main advantage of MYN is that it can handle a lot more tasks than 1MTD. But 1MTD is much simpler. So I recommend to many users that they start with 1MTD and only advance to MYN once their 1MTD task list gets very large (more than 100 tasks or so). However, many users do collect a lot of tasks quickly and then find moving up to MYN can be a big step–and so put it off too long–and then the 1MTD system starts to fall apart for them.
But here is an alternate solution that may work for you instead of advancing to MYN: you might want to just “extend” 1MTD to make it handle more tasks. Doing that takes a lot less study, and it may be all you need to do to get 1MTD working for you again. I’ll show you how to do that here.
Here is the typical sequence of events that gets users in trouble as the task list grows. First, your Over the Horizon section (low priority section) gets too big (hundreds of items) and so you stop reviewing it. Next, when your Opportunity Now section gets too big you become afraid to move items from it down to the Over the Horizon section (since you know you never check the low section—it has become a black hole). So now your Opportunity Now section gets bigger and bigger, and so you stop checking it every day. Then some important things fall through the cracks, or the list just seems too big and overwhelming, and you give up on the whole system. Sound familiar?
Solution: Extend the Over the Horizon Section
You can extend the Over the Horizon section in 1MTD by implementing a simplified version of the MYN Defer-to-Review process. In the MYN version of that process, low-priority tasks get assigned various future Monday start dates, indicating when it makes sense to review them again. Many tasks will be hidden for several months as a result, which means the low-priority task list that appears each Monday is relatively short and easy to process and empty.
Well, we don’t use start dates in 1MTD, so cannot use that approach. But you can get similar results by using this shortcut approach: divide the 1MTD low priority section into several sections, each with a different review cycle. For simplicity, let’s assume two sections. The top section is the weekly review section—the list you commit to study once a week. Below that is a monthly review section—a list you commit to check once a month. The idea is to move as many items as possible into the monthly section, enough to make the weekly section small and easily reviewed each week. Even if you have hundreds of items in the monthly section, the fact that you only need to review it once a month makes it a reasonable chore. Then just make sure you do review it on schedule, so that you trust the process.
That’s the idea, and it’s pretty simple. How you implement it, however, depends on what software you are using 1MTD in.
Implementing in Outlook
If you are using Windows Outlook with simple 1MTD settings (see chapter 5 of the 1MTD book), you can drag tasks into position within priority groups. That’s how you indicate priority within an urgency zone group—just drag them up and down. So to move tasks to the monthly review section, just drag them there. But how do you delineate that section? Is there some priority lower than low? No, you keep them in low, but you use a “marker task” to delineate a monthly review portion of low.
A marker task is an Outlook task you create that is not used as a task but is just used as a title to mark a position in the list. So just create a new low-priority task and title it as follows:
##### REVIEW MONTHLY (next: June-1) #####. Then just drag the marker task to the bottom of your weekly review tasks, and from now on drag tasks you want to review monthly below that marker. The figure at the start of this article shows how this looks.
A couple notes on the text in this task. The hash symbols are there to make the marker task stand out—so you can see it easily. Same with the all caps. The date at the end is your next review date; at the end of each monthly review you should reset it to one month in the future.
(Note, on mobile devices this dragged position may not hold. So plan on doing your weekly and monthly reviews at your desk or laptop.)
Implementing in Toodledo
Since you cannot drag tasks into position in Toodledo, the above approach won’t work. But Toodledo has an even simpler (and better) solution. It has an additional priority level called Negative, which sorts below Low. So you’re going to use it to indicate those tasks that you intend to review monthly. Simple!
One catch with doing that is if you are using a mobile app that does not support the Negative priority in Toodledo (Pocket Informant Android, for example), what do you do? Well, since Toodledo does not support dragging tasks, you’ll probably be putting numbers in front of many tasks to force their position in an alphabetical subsort, as discussed in this article. If so, then to extend a single low priority section you might do this: leave numbers on all low priority tasks that you intend to review on a weekly cycle, and remove numbers from tasks that you review monthly. The weekly ones will sort to the top of the low section.
Then Clean up the Opportunity Now Section
Once you’ve got the Over the Horizon (low) section under control and are checking it on schedule, you can start trusting it as a place to put tasks. So next, get your Opportunity Now section (medium or normal section) cleaned up—get it down to 20 or fewer items by moving lots of items to Over the Horizon. And of course, you should have no more than 5 items in the Critical Now (high) section, so get that cleaned up as well (these limits are explained in chapter 3 of the 1MTD book). When you get these upper two sections back down to size, your whole system will start working again.
Extending the Extended Review
This should work well for quite some time. But at some point your monthly review list might also get too big, even to review monthly. In Outlook you can create another marker task, perhaps called QUARTERLY REVIEW BELOW, and use it in the same way.
Toodledo does not have additional priority groups below Negative. So for Toodledo, if you must have more review groups, you might want to switch to using a completely numeric sorting system, all within the one Low priority group. I leave it to you to devise that plan.
But really, if you have that many tasks collected, it may be time to advance to MYN. Its Defer-to-Review system is much more elegant than the stopgap approach above, and it has a ton more tools to help you get complete control of many many tasks. See the right side of this link for next steps to do that.
Thoughts? Put them in the comment section below.