Is Crossing Things Off Your To-Do List Really That Simple?

Tetris Image

What does your to-do list look like? Mine is like a never ending game of Tetris. I try to follow the advice of Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better ( and make a very concise list of things that need to be done. Their advice is to avoid vague concepts (such as “find a new dentist” or “learn Italian”) and instead write down concrete actionable items (such as “email Jayne and ask what dentist she goes to” or “look up the local university’s Italian class schedule”) – but the problem is that’s too simplistic.

Most of our to-do items are interdependent on other things that need to get done in parallel, or at least done in a certain order. Crossing a single item is never as simple as that – first I need to complete 3 other things, which all depend on other tasks as well, and so on. So, is crossing things off your to do list really that simple?

This is the first of three blog posts on this topic. In this first post we define the problem. In the second post we will examine the challenges with current technology that makes finding a solution difficult, and in the third post we will profile one potential solution.

In Tetris (, I need to move that squiggle over and flip it, so it can neatly complete 1 row, but it leaves a block on the next line, making it harder to clear the following row.

Today I have one simple, concrete task to complete: finish this blog post. It’s only 2 or 3 paragraphs and shouldn’t take very long at all, so I set aside two hours in my calendar to work on it. I grab my iPad and head over to the corner coffee shop where I just finish ordering my white chocolate mocha when my phone buzzes. A client is asking me for the latest edits of a document. The document is back at the office inside our DMS. (Document Management System) I can’t get to it from here. I need to wait until I get back to the office. Another email comes in 1 minute later, asking to move the meeting I scheduled with some colleagues. I would do it now, but I can’t see everyone’s availability on my mobile calendar app. A few minutes later someone wants some documents sent over. They are different attachments in different emails I’ve been exchanging with my partner on this issue over the past couple of weeks, so I can’t just find them and forward the emails to our client as is. So there I am heading back to the office with 3 new to do items, and no progress on the original task. Is crossing a single, simple item off my to do list really that simple?

Sound familiar? Are you looking for the efficiency and productivity benefits that mobile technology promises? Whatever you think, we would love to hear from you so please share your comments below.

Please watch this space. This is the first of three posts that I am writing. More to follow soon!

– Ilya

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