Your to-do list is a Ferris Wheel

I always love chatting with Anne Bogel (host of the podcast What Should I Read Next?) As her books empire has grown, she has found herself managing a sizable, all-virtual team. So I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for The New Corner Office (my ebook on how successful people work from home).

In describing how she managed her days, she used the image of a Ferris Wheel. At any given time, she noted, she has a small number of projects that she is focusing on. These are the top of the Ferris Wheel. Then the wheel spins and she moves on to other projects. Eventually, she can focus on everything in turn.

When she mentioned this in our interview, I had a real “a-ha!” moment. When people ask me about to-do lists, I always emphasize the virtue of brevity. A 30-item daily to-do list is kind of silly. You won’t get to all these things, and there’s no virtue in putting something on a to-do list and then not doing it. It’s just as not done as if it was never on the list in the first place, only now you feel bad! Better to make a short list (ideally 3-5 things) that can become a contract with yourself. You will do these things whatever the day dishes up. You will then end the day feeling accomplished.

It makes sense, but I know that people struggle with this — probably because most of us have more than 3-5 things going on in our lives. The Ferris Wheel analogy solves this problem. Of course we all have more than that going on! But you focus on a few things at a time, and keep the wheel spinning. If you tried to put everything on the top of the Ferris Wheel at once, well, no one wants to go on that ride.

How do you make your to-do lists?

11 thoughts on “Your to-do list is a Ferris Wheel

  1. I love a scheduled out to-do list! List out everything you want to do, then put them into days or times, or list as next week or future.

    Or, if I have fewer constraints on my time/schedule, I put my to-do list in order of priority and work in that order. Then I ignore the tasks that aren’t next up on the list! The written out priority order is also helpful for projects that sometimes have tasks for me and sometimes don’t – going down that list in order can help in making my current to-do list and prioritize incoming tasks.

    I definitely like having a full list somewhere, so I don’t worry about forgetting anything. But also, I personally like having slightly more on the current to-do list than I expect to accomplish. I often categorize those items as “if there’s extra time”. Otherwise, I lost motivation after completing my list of tasks, even if there’s plenty of time left to do more! Which can kind of be a problem if the work day isn’t over.

    Great post! 🙂

  2. I struggle with what to do with all those items. I don’t have any problem making a daily realistic list, but what do I do with “everything else”? My “Someday” list becomes a “never” list because it’s so long, and somebody always wants something else from me. I may be having a bad day. lol

    But I loved the insight from Anne in the book!

  3. I agree with the first commenter (ordering the list helps) though there are times for me when the ordering does Not equal the priority! To the second comment, you may want to consider fitting in the “sometime” task between 2&3 for example. Don’t miss a COB deadline of course, but squeezing in 1 “sometime” task each day or week feels great and does make it feel like you are getting “more than” just what’s required accomplished.
    By the time you finish the last must-do, you may not have the energy to start a “sometime“, so fit it in elsewhere 🙂

  4. Doing a to do list « brain dump » every Monday morning (all types: work, family, self etc). Then each task gets put in a slot in my calendar! Most efficient way I have found to actually get things done.

  5. I keep a master To-Do list which is sort of a brain dump that contains ALL the things I need/want/wish to do. My real, daily To-Do list is just what I can fit on a small Post-it…the regular daily things and then something pulled from the master list…or at least something to do to move forward one of the things on the master list.

  6. I read this analogy in your new book, and I honestly feel like it is changing my life. I’m the type that tries to keep everything at the top at once. I really struggle with focusing on just 3-5 tasks/projects/goals/etc. I loved this analogy so much that I printed out an image of a Ferris wheel and wrote my current projects by the cars (are they cars?). All the other things I want to do that don’t fit on the Ferris wheel are in a list on the bottom (“in line for the ride”). I also wrote out my foundational habits I’m trying to establish/maintain on the “spokes” of the wheel. Things like exercise, leisure, Bible study, and quality time with my husband and kids. This reminds me that if I don’t take care of these things first, there’s no way the wheel can spin to support my other goals. Thank you a thousand times over to both and Anne for this incredible idea!

  7. I love Get to Work book products for this, project breakdown pad for all of the things, and today’s 3 things for centering my daily list.

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