by Asim Jalis
The todo list should contain goals, not the steps to achieve
them. It should define "what" not "how". It should present a
picture of the world as it will be after the goal is achieved.
Think of the todo list items as little tests. It should be easy
to check whether a test passes (the goal has been achieved) or
whether it fails (the goal has not been achieved).
Here is an example of a bad todo list:
[ ] buy watering can
The question that arises here is why do I want to buy a watering
can. To figure that out we apply the 5 Whys. I want to buy the
watering can to water my backyard. I want to water my backyard
because the grass is turning yellow and I want it to be green. I
want the grass to be green because my neighbor's grass is green.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
So the real goal is:
[ ] make grass as green as neighbor's
The advantage of writing down ultimate goals instead of
intermediate steps are:
1. Goals can suggest other solutions. Instead of buying a
watering can I can buy a sprinkler. Or I could look for products
that allow grass to stay green on less water. Or I could read
about how to keep grass green without watering it.
2. Goals can be re-evaluated and re-prioritized. It's much harder
to evaluate and prioritize tasks. Upon re-evaluating this goal it
might occur to me that maybe I should just accept the grass as it
is and wait for the rain in August.
3. Goals can only be checked off after they are achieved. Let's
say I buy the watering can, check off the item on my todo list,
and then forget about it for a week. That does not really help
the grass very much. If instead I use a goal I am not able to
check it off until I have solved the problem.
4. Goals are more fun. Goals are more like a game, or like play,
than todo lists. Todo lists are like work. Todo lists are
constraining. They prescribe too much. They constrain creativity
and fun. Imagine a manager who defines for you the end-result and
lets you figure out how to achieve it, and contrast him with a
manager who tells you exactly what to do. Goal lists are like the
first manager, and traditional todo lists are like the second