Use the Going Home Test to keep your Priorities under Control

Dec 7, 2012                                                                               

Listing Too Many Tasks Leads to Failure

Probably the number one problem with any computerized task list is that the list gets too big too fast, and then we just give up and stop using the list. That’s because we feel dispirited by the huge number of to-dos, and don’t know where to start. Or the things at the top of the list don’t ring true as being our most important tasks.

Part of this problem is having too many high priority tasks. Most to-do list systems have a three level rating approach, and nearly everyone I know who uses these puts way too many items in the top level. So you can use something called The Going Home Test in to solve this problem. Let me explain how.

Three Ways to Control High Priority Tasks

Here are three ways we keep your high priority list under control in the MYN/1MTD systems.

First, we provide a very simple and uncompromising definition of what goes in the highest priority section (called the Critical Now section): only put things there that are absolutely due today.

Second, to crystallize that a bit, we set a rule that you will have no more than five items in that section. Note you might even have zero items in that section on any given day, which would be a good thing.

The Going Home Test

If you find yourself having trouble keeping the list under five items, then we offer a third angle: use The Going Home Test as a way to help you identify whether a task really is absolutely due today. You see, most of us get carried away even with a statement as simple as absolutely due today, and then list too many things. So The Going Home Test helps makes it crystal clear, as follows.

Before you put an item in your high-priority section, ask yourself this question: “To complete this task, would I be willing to work late, and not go home?” If the answer is “no” then don’t put the task in your high-priority section.

In other words, if the item is not worth taking non-work time to complete, it must not be that critical. Put it in the Opportunity Now section instead.

The Going Home Test is a great way to cut to the chase on what really matters when making your Critical Now list for any given day. I encourage you to use it!


15 thoughts on “Use the Going Home Test to keep your Priorities under Control

    1. John

      Your article couldn’t have come at a better time. I was just going over my Outlook High Priority list (set up using your system) and realized I had 28 tasks! As I went through them, I realized some were done, some weren’t Critical and most didn’t have to be done today (or not go home). Your comment that this Critical Now (aka High Priority) list could even be empty was a light bulb moment for me.

      Thanks for your great system. I use it and my son (a petroleum engineer) both use it.


  1. George

    You are so right about what happens with computerized lists. I have several old and abandoned lists that I’m reluctant to review and clean up.

  2. Glenis

    Thanks for the reminder, Michael. I had just put another Task into Top Priority, but it’s only due to appear on 2nd January. When it appears, I’ll ask it the “going home” test – it will probably fail. :-)

    I LIKE this system. I currently have only one visible Task in Top, and 3 in “bottom” (due to your DTR system) but I do have 30 tasks in the middle section, so even with all your help I’m still a bit out-of-control…

  3. LP

    I also like Jiri’s version. Workaholics might be “willing to work late and not go home”.
    “If it was tomorrow, and this task was still not done, how bad would that be?” focuses on others/department/company and risk both actual and perceived.

  4. Michael Linenberger Post author

    You are not doing so bad! We recommend 20 or fewer in the middle section, so 30 is not terrible. Just move 10 o so into the lower section, with a future start date. I find I sometimes go 4 or 5 days before I clean up the middle section. Not a big deal. Keep up the good work!

  5. Joe L

    Hey Michael,
    I have been a big user of the MYN system for about a year now (and have even incorporated my staff to use it). I have become more and more diligent with limiting the tasks that end up on my critical and opportunity now sections (high and normal) but have a hard time with the Over the horizon list. What I mean is I now have over 125 tasks in there. Part of the reason is that I tend to use it as a reference spot. i.e.- someday I would like to “read this” or “watch this” or “look this up” or need to pull info from this spot or read old Linenberger blogs…etc (that truly is one in there!).

    I don’t really want to put them as tasks since they don’t have a start date/due date but yet need to keep them handy somehow. Honestly this keeps me from moving items from High to Normal or Normal to Low when I really should. I am afraid that they will just get lost in the list though. If I were honest I would only have about 4 things per day that MUST get done THAT day but due to my clogged system I don’t move things down the line. Hope I am explaining this well.

    I haven’t found anything on any of your posts so wonder what you do about these misc items that you want to either literally do (action) on a blue moon occasion OR need just to reference to at some point.


    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Joe, yes I completely understand what you mean by not wanting to move things down the line. That’s a classic result of letting the Over the Horizon (OTH) section gets out of control. It’s okay to put that type of task in there, and this problem has been solved in MYN even with hundreds of those. Here are the solutions:
      **1–you definitely should study and start using Defer-to-Review, which is where you schedule when low priority tasks show up in your visible OTH list. All OTH tasks get a future Monday start date. Doing that, the OTH section is empty most of the time (except for Mondays when you review the few that pop in and re-empty it). Then just schedule the blue moon ones to reappear on a very long schedule, say 3 to 6 months, and then schedule them out again the next time they appear. Here is a short online write-up on Defer-to-Reveiw:
      Better though is to read if you can Lesson 9 in the Outlook book. Or if taking video lessons see video lesson #13.
      **2–if you don’t EVER want to be forced to review these reference tasks, then put a very distant start date on them (I use 2/2/2222) so they never pop into your visible OTH section, and just Search on them when you want to.
      Hope that helps, Michael

  6. Joe L

    Thanks Michael! I remember reading about that stuff before but I appreciate you pointing out the location to review and I will definitely implement the defer to review steps!

  7. Artist

    hallo Michael few days ago I start learning your system and I like it very much (I try few others…). I am freelancer magician, writer and film director…so my queston abaut this one ‘To complete this task, would I be willing to work late, and not go home?” … wich question I ask myself insted… because nature of my ‘work’ is day and night (I have no reguar working time profesionaly) …. I have no idea for now… maybe same your sugstions … thank you…


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