You only need 3 lists


We like our lists, our task apps, and our systems. We like planning and managing our days. But many of us overcomplicate things, often spending more time managing our lists than doing the tasks on those lists. And being stressed as we perpetually look for the perfect system. 

I was reminded of that recently when I saw a post on social crediting Marc Andreessen’s way of managing his very busy days. Andreessen puts his tasks into just 3 categories: 

  1. NOW
  2. NEXT
  3. LATER

And I think he puts them on a single page. 

We can quibble about the meaning of “now”. For some of us, that means “immediately,” as soon as we finish making the list. For others, it might mean “today”. Others might include tasks intended to be done over the next few days. 

For me, “now” means “today”. I like to look at the list, see what’s on tap for the day, and not have to think about anything else until it’s time to look at tomorrow. I also put those tasks in the order I intend to do them.

“Next” surely means tasks to do after you complete the tasks on your first list. That might mean later today, later in the week, or as soon as you can. It might include scheduled tasks, projects to review, single tasks, or routines that need to be done, well, routinely.

“Now” and “Next” are pretty clear. It’s “Later” that can cause problems, especially if it becomes a dumping ground for everything you want to do after you do the tasks on the first two lists.

An endless “Later” list isn’t helpful. The best solution is to impose a cutoff. “Later” might mean “next week” or “later this month” for example.  

What do you do with everything else? Things you want to do next month, next quarter, next year, or “someday”? 

Schedule them. 

Put these in your app or on your calendar to either “do” or “review” on a future day. That’s what I do, and it keeps me (reasonably) sane. 

The point of having just 3 lists is to keep things simple, because if it’s simple, you’ll do it.

Each day, look at your “now” list or today’s list and get to work. When you finish the tasks on that list, you can start on “next” (if you have the time and energy), or put those tasks on your list for tomorrow and go have some fun. 

What do you do to keep your task lists manageable?