Sticking With Lingering To-Do’s

I am generally categorically opposed to what I call ‘productivity porn’, which may I add has nothing to do with the porn on, I am also opposed to the prescription of silver-bullet productivity/GTD/time management advice. “Follow these four steps and re-claim your to-do list and your life!” One of the reasons I oppose that type of advice is that many times, the person espousing a fix has found something that works really well for themselves and won’t necessarily work for everyone.

That being said, I do think it’s healthy to think well about how we use our time (which I’m writing a series about1) and from time-to-time I run across an opinion about productivity that I think is interesting enough to discuss.

To that end, a gentleman named Jeremiah Owyang wrote a post on Medium called “If Time is Money, Invest Wisely.”2 The premise of the post is spot-on:

Time is a limited resource. Unlike money, you can use money to make more money. We can’t use time to make more time, it’s a fixed amount each day. We also don’t know how many days we will get in our lives, so we should maximize how to use it.

Later on in the post, though, he offers a few points of advice on how to manage your to-do list:

2) Prioritize the lists, find items that can be done in sequence or things that can be replicated.
3) Items that stay on your lists for weeks may just have to come off

This is a semantic gripe, but I disagree with the philosophy of, “prioritize and if that doesn’t work just get rid of things you aren’t going to do.” The act of prioritization should involve removing things that aren’t, well, a priority. Again, this is a nit-picky observation, but the point is a very important one: some of the most important decisions we make each day are deciding what we do and don’t do. Prioritization should be the chopping block of your day, deciding what’s getting done and what isn’t.

That being said, if you have ‘lingering to-do’ that is, in fact, very important, the problem isn’t your to-do list, it’s something else. And simply removing the task from view or changing which to-do list app or methodology you use isn’t going to get you closer to actually completing that action item.

If you’ve already established your priorities, legitimate (truly important) lingering to-do’s can be a great diagnostic: what’s keeping me from getting this task done?

This week I completed a to-do that I created for myself in mid-March. It stayed on my list for over 200 days. I changed the due-date 41 times. I’m tempted to be embarrassed by those numbers, but I actually feel the opposite way: I didn’t remove it from my list or try to figure out a new time-management method. I simply kept it out in front of me until I forcibly carved out a huge chunk of time to make it happen (finding an uninterrupted block of time was my barrier).

Admittedly, lingering to-do items are oppressive to me. I love marking everything off of my list. A complete list can be addictive in the wrong way, though. Not all tasks can be completed in a day and lots of times I need lingering to-do’s to keep me from engineering my daily task list in a way that makes me feel good but doesn’t mean that I’m getting the most important stuff done.

And, just for fun, here’s a screenshot of my ‘lingering to-do’:


1. You can read more about my series, Making it Count, here.2. You can read the original post about investing time on Medium.

Published by


Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

2 thoughts on “Sticking With Lingering To-Do’s”

  1. I love that screenshot! LOL. I tried those online time management to-do lists (Trello) but eventually I just stopped logging in. I am a born procrastinator, like right now, I’m procrastinating a project I’m not terribly excited about doing by reading your blog and responding thoughtfully. My problem with lists is that they have to be on paper so I can physically check them off, and I have to have more than one. One for work (Priority One), one for everyone else (Priority Three) that contains things my husband or son requests I complete while they’re at work / school and one for myself (Priority Two) full of things I want to get done for work or things I want to do just for me. Hmmm, do we see a pattern here?My photography, my creative projects, my me time, it’s what lingers and hangs around because everything (or every one) else is always more important. It’s good to know I’m not the only one moving things up on my lists.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond—I love reading your thoughts.

      To-do lists are a vicious cycle, aren’t they? I think it’s fascinating how different people’s methods of keeping track of things are:

      “My problem with lists is that they have to be on paper so I can physically check them off, and I have to have more than one.”

      A great example of the reason specific advice is rarely ubiquitous. One thing I have found is that, in regards to those lingering to-do’s, completing even just one of them motivates you to complete additional tasks. Adjusting your field of view to include only one of those lingering tasks (as opposed to the pile of them) might be a good kickstart to making progress on Priority Two.

Leave a Reply