Down With Tyrannical To-Do Lists!


emergent task planner david seah

If “to-do” lists numb your neuron, you might want to check out David Seah’s thoughts on the matter?

Always seeking small holiday-party doorprizes for my Adult ADHD discussion group in Palo Alto, I found these small, inexpensive pads called “The Emergent Task Planner.”

I purchased several sizes, and each was met with delight from the lucky winner (and later reports of actually being used). This one is still available: The 4×6″ Emergent Task Planner StickyPad (2 pack)

Today, I went to re-order a few for myself. The Google search led me to the website of the planners’ inventor, David Seah, who writes about the system The Emergent Task Planner – David Seah

David Seah Explains His Task Progress Tracker

David also shares a free download of another intriguing tool for project-based to-do lists. He calls it “The Task Progress Tracker.” As he writes:

One of the awful things about to-do lists is that you feel reward only when everything is checked-off. This is a distressingly-rare event, and you start to feel bad about not working fast enough.

To free myself from this trap, I made the Task Progress Tracker (TPT). It tracks effort in a useful way, not just done-ness. It also provide a “big picture” view of a project, which helps avoid the ickiness of micro-management. It’s an “I did” list, not a tyranical “to do” list.

More from David:

The TPT is designed to provide an overview of a project and its subcomponent steps, focusing on problem solving rather than mechanical task completion. It does this by tracking time spent, not tasks completed. This allows you to be mindful at the “intention” level as you work toward solving your problem, which is appropriate when pioneering new processes or doing fundamental research. So long as you’re working, that’s great.

To-do lists have their place as pre-flight lists and reminders. They are also workable for tasks that you know how to complete. When tackling something new, creative, or unknown, I don’t think they don’t work as well; they are like the untrained boss who bugs you every five minutes for results, without caring about how you get them. It’s oppressive!

 Down with oppressive to-do lists! Thank you, David!

—Gina Pera


6 thoughts on “Down With Tyrannical To-Do Lists!”

  1. Oh, this is very interesting! I’m tempted to buy a pack of these to a.) review on my blog and b.) try to help my husband understand a bit better how and where he’s spending his time. It seems like it could be sobering for folks who tend to let time get away from them…

  2. Here is my bruetly honest feedback on this product.

    Dave Seah’s site that was linked from your blog offered free print out for The Task progress tracker. As I sat down with it, as Adult with ADD, I was already overwhelmed with “the task” to break down AND “estimate” time for each tasks.

    I can see how this can be useful for some people,but if I were to be completely honest with myself (as you know, people with ADD are a great lier, i.g. it’ll only take me just a min to do this so I won’t be late for me appt.) using this organizer will just be added to my long to-do list.

    I learned that people with ADD just don’t have a good sense of time, and/or ability to estimate time needed to travel, do tasks etc…

    PS I enjoyed going to your workshops when you come to our town!

    1. Thanks for your brutally honest feedback, Sachiko! 🙂

      Now, no one claims that these trackers are going to work magically for people with ADHD, or anyone else. But they can be part of a strategy. A strategy that often includes medication, if time-challenges are that big a problem for you.

      The whole point of the progress tracker is to support your understanding of time, to make it visual. But this tool can’t do it alone.

      Even with medication on board, it might be that someone who is adept at breaking tasks down into time slots can work through it with you. Yes, I know not everyone has such a person, but I bet most people do. And I bet most friends, when asked, would be happy to sit down for a half hour or so and help plot various tasks.

      Good luck!

  3. Interesting! I look forward to checking it out.

    I make (and misplace) lists frequently. Not getting everything done doesn’t bother me too much. But I find it it very useful to write down tasks and ideas that I think about that are not part of what I’m doing at that very second rather than continuing to try to remember them while I’m actually doing (or trying to do) something else (or several other things) first.

    My favorite list-keeping product was a “Shopping List” pad with a magnet on back for holding it onto a refrigerator. It had 10 numbered lines, with room below for more items.

    What made it unique … and fun to have … was that the #1 line was already filled in:

    “1. Find the List!”

    My mother bought one decades ago, but I haven’t seen it anywhere since.

    1. Ha! That’s great, Mike. A little humor is a great start to any to-do list!

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