How many to-do lists do you have?

One of the first questions I ask a new productivity coaching client is: How are you currently managing your tasks?

Answers vary:

  • I have this notepad…They are in this pile of paper… I have sticky notes…
  • My email inbox is my task list… I mark the items unread… I flag…
  • I do it right away so I won’t forget…I wait until I am reminded…
  • I mark it on my calendar…I work on weekends…
  • I’m not managing my tasks…


People who come to me for productivity coaching are generally getting things done. They would not be gainfully employed if they weren’t.


They are throwing more and more hours at their problems. Eventually, they run out of hours, out of patience, out of sanity. Like Bob, for instance…

I met with a client yesterday who took me on a virtual tour of his task management systems. We looked at his Outlook Tasks, OneNote tasks, notes on PowerPoint slides, Calendar entries at 7:00 pm every night, and so on.

He was using almost every tool that Microsoft could offer. My first piece of advice to him was:

Pick one task management tool.


Compare these two scenarios:

Scenario One: Lots of task management options!


Scenario Two: One choice for task management!


Having one task management tool is faster and more brainless. You’ll experience less decision fatigue.

Having one task management tool allows you to weigh your priorities more effectively. All the beasties are in one cage ready to do battle with each other (cognitively, of course).

Having one task management tool allows you to better communicate to the powers that be that you are overloaded. Your requests for additional resources will sound much less like whining.

Having one task management tool makes it much less likely that you will “lose” your action items in the chaos.

Having multiple task management tools is the biggest productivity fallacy I encounter.


So…pick one!

And make sure your one (and only) task management tool…

  • Is integrated into your daily work rituals.
  • Allows you to streamline how you process your email.
  • Is secure and can safely hold confidential information.

Because a car is only as good as its driver.

Do you need help choosing (and driving!) your task management tool?

Contact me for a free initial assessment of your productivity systems.

Corral To-Dos eBook

Are you ready to get serious about doing the right things AND doing things right?

Check out my eBook Corral Your To-Dos: and don’t rely on your brain – at all.

Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Linda Samuels

    Brilliant and so true! I’ve been on a ‘live with less’ path for the last year or so. And your philosophy of task management feels similar to this in many ways. When I use my one trusted list to handle my tasks, I have confidence that things won’t be forgotten. But as you said, having everything in one place is less fatiguing. I don’t know all of the task management options out there. I’ve settled on one that works beautifully for me- it’s the 2Do app.

    Love your enthusiasm, Melissa!

  2. Pam Holland

    OMG! I was just yesterday working on to-do list tips for one of my programs so the topic must be in the air! I like using Trello myself and am working on creating the habit of of putting to-dos there FIRST. Currently I often write it down on (gasp!) paper and then transfer it to Trello later.

  3. Sabrina Quairoli

    One task management tool is super important. I agree!

    Be sure to do the research, test the product, and run a test for at least a month to see if the tool works for the tasks you need to track.

  4. Seana Turner

    100% agree!

    I use a Filofax (I know, it dates me…) that I really love. I have two pages per day, 1/2 is my calendar and the other 1/2 is my to do list. Everything goes in there. I call it my brain, and I record everything there. I also have a few pockets for random notes, checks, business cards, and other things that pop into my life.

    I love that I only have to look one place to find everything.

  5. Julie Bestry

    I couldn’t agree more! One person, one system!

    Over the many decades, I’ve learned that not only do I need ONE home for my pending tasks, but I need them to be on paper. I could tell myself that I should (and therefore will) try a snazzy new digital system, but the truth is that a digital calendar or digital task list just doesn’t feel REAL to me (just as I feel no compunction about finishing a book I start on Kindle vs. a real hold-in-my-hand tangible book). So, I have a paper planner (like Seana!) for everything that is date-specific, and while I have a master list of potential projects and tasks, anything that must be done goes on a sticky right next to my desk. One system, on product type for each category. I may text apps that run in parallel to my “real” system, just so I can share my insights with clients, but for me, I know the digital will always be a poor imitation, not a separate, usable system!

    Thanks for spilling the tea, Doc!

  6. Diane Quintana

    I agree with the rest. One system is THE way to go – whichever it is that works for you. I love Sabrina’s comment to test-drive the system for a month to give it an honest try. I use a spiral notebook – you know the kind with lined paper. I list my appointments for the day and the step in one of the many projects I will complete that day. When the day is done, I rip out the piece of paper and transfer anything to the next day that wasn’t completed to my satisfaction.
    I, like Julie, have a master list of all the projects I am currently working on and check off various tasks within those projects as time goes on.


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