What’s a To-Do List manager for anyhow?

According to GTD — IMHO — there are two reasons to have a to-do list manager:

  1. Keep track of every “loose end” in the GTD sense of “thing that would otherwise bug me if it weren’t recorded in a trusted system”.
  2. Supply a palette of small-bite “next actions” which can be selected when one has a question of what to do next.

Most to-do list systems manage these two pretty well.  Where they begin to separate (again, IMHO) is how they handle a third problem: how to pick what to do next.

When fitzpatl@gmail.com comments that “[MLO] could get complicated pretty fast”, he is coming from the Kanban place of “focus on a few things by limited next actions-in-progress”.    There is power in focus — ultimately, this ends up as the kind of focus Gary Keller celebrates in “The One Thing”: a singleton.

I think about The One Thing a lot, but still there’s something in me that wants to see all the next actions, and, even more, there’s something in me that wants software to automate the ranking of the next actions.

I’m not sure this is in the service of productivity anymore.  It might be a kind of Bertrand-Russell-like fascination with reifying my entire universe of effort into an automated list.  But I think I’m not the only person who flirts with this kind of thing.

There’s actually to-do-list software I used for a while a long time ago that automatically fills out your calendar for you with tasks.  You tell it the priorities of tasks and their duration; you tell it your appointments and your work-stop and work-start times, and it will fill the calendar with scheduled, prioritized tasks.

I loved that hack while I using it.  I couldn’t really use it because it was too cumbersome.  And I abandoned it although I loved it.

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