When to Ignore That “One List” Rule

by Annie

in working with your list

Hand with 3 To-Do List Written On ItPsst. Wanna know a secret?

Well, scoosh on over here next to me, and I’ll tell you …

All productivity advice boils down eventually to “Do the work.”

If you think that’s something, just wait ‘til you hear this next part …

Most productivity tips and strategies are just psychological mind games you can play with yourself to overcome your resistance to “Do the work.”

And the tip I’m about to share with you? No different.

But that’s OK. Because if it all boils down at its essence to “get off your ass and just DO it,” then the only thing left we can do is to remove the obstacles to “doing.”

This tip is one way to help you do just that.

The Productivity Strategy: MIST – The Second List

Ordinarily, I’m a big proponent of the “keep ONE to-do list” rule.

OK, maybe it’s more of a suggestion than a rule. Anyway.

There are, however, those times in the life cycle of your average couch warrior, solopreneur, & creative worker extraordinaire that require throwing the rule – er, suggestion – right out the damned window.

During those times, you need a second list.

But not just any list, cupcakes. A special list.

My peeps, you need a MIST List.

(Hey, look at that. It rhymes!)

It stands for “Most Important Shit Today.” (Or, for the G-rated among you, “Most Important Stuff Today.”)

It’s just a short list (very short – like, three-things short) of the (quelle surprise) most important things on that one list for today only.

When to Use the “MIST” Strategy

The MIST list is kind of like going nuclear. You don’t wanna press that button prematurely. Instead, save it for when you really need it.

When is that? Two specific kinds of circumstances that I’ve identified so far:

  1. When you’re overwhelmed with more than two complex projects and having trouble keeping all the balls in the air (get your mind out of the gutter – that’s a juggling reference)
  2. Or when you’re working like a dog but have this sinking feeling that no matter how hard or much you work, you’re losing sight of the brass ring, and the truly important shit isn’t getting done

Making Your MIST List

To make your MIST List, you can try a number of approaches.

You can start with your main list, and then drill down to the ten most important things, then the six most important things, then the top three. (It’s always easier to drill down in increments, by the way. Don’t try to go from 100 to 3 in one fell swoop. It’s crazy-making and takes way longer.)

If you’re more comfortable creating than editing, you can start from scratch. Just get comfy, get meditative, and ask yourself “If I could only do three things today, what three things would be most satisfying?”

Or if you’re worried about the big-picture and losing sight thereof, start with the end result in mind, then work backwards with two simple questions:

  1. What is it you’re trying to produce here?
  2. What are the next three steps you can take towards making that production a reality?

Getting MIST-y On You

Have you ever tried working with a MIST list before (even if you called it something else)? Does it help you get more done, or at least feel more focused? Share your best advice for others in the comments!

Photo credit: *Nom & Malc via photopin cc

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Polley (@polleydan) October 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I have not heard of the MIST list, but it is great advice. Sometimes you just need to do those most important tasks and no more.
Dan Polley (@polleydan) recently posted..5 Key Thoughts from the PR + Social Media Summit, #prsms


Jeff Belonger October 16, 2012 at 2:38 am

Hey Annie.. I guess no different than my mail list with the top 3 things listed as priority. Usually placing an asterisk next to the most important things to do first. But this post is a good reminder of what to focus on.


Someone October 20, 2012 at 4:45 am

I make a few lists, organizing my shit/stuff/whatever by importance. It’s the only thing stopping my procrastination.


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