Giving Your List Power – Creating Context

Giving Your List Power – Creating Context


Giving Your List Power Through Context

In my previous post on list building I talked about some simple techniques and apps that can be used to help you achieve success in creating lists. In this post, I want to talk about how to gain the true power of list creation by creating context within your lists.

Context is about defining priorities and time lines for accomplishing tasks. A list is merely a list until you set priorities and create deadlines for accomplishing these tasks.


Let’s start with priorities. First, if something can easily be accomplished with little to no resources and within minutes, that is a “just do it” and should not be added to a list. You need to complete that item right away to free up your time for more important items. The items you put on your list need to have some sense of importance and also will more than likely require you to seek out further resources and assistance. These are items that can’t easily be accomplished in a matter of minutes otherwise you would just do them.

In my previous post, I urged you to just get your items on your list without worrying about prioritizing. This is important because you want to get items on the list when they are top of mind that way you won’t forget them. After you get them on the list you can sit down and go through them one by one to decide the degree of urgency each one requires and also the amount of time each will take to accomplish.

You can prioritize your list in a number of ways – by when it has to be accomplished, how long it will take to get done, by the degree of payback or reward that will be realized upon completion, or by priorities that are set for you by a manager.

Due Dates

Once your list is prioritized you need to set due dates for accomplishing the main task and any sub-tasks. Even if you don’t have a hard date that something needs to get done, set what you see as a realistic date for accomplishing the task. Never leave a task open-ended or it will never get done. Deadlines create urgency.

Resources Needed

After you have set your deadline, list under each task or sub-task what resources you will need, either material or human, and a date for when you need to have those resources available. Understanding what you need and when allows you to formulate your plan for getting a task done and makes you aware of items you may not have considered. When you know what resources you need, and the date you need them by, you are setting yourself up for success by not having to scramble at the last-minute to attain what you need to complete a task.

Next, you need to decide how long it will take you to accomplish each task and decide upon a start date for meeting your deadline. Make an educated guess, one that is conservative but yet challenging enough that it pushes you to get it done.


Finally, set reminders. Some list apps allow you to set reminders for tasks items within the app, or you can simply copy items off your list and set them as appointments in your Outlook or Google calendar. Set a reminder for when you want to begin the task and one for when the task is to be completed. If a task will take a week or more, set check points on your calendar to put aside time to review the task and check to make sure you are on track to finish the task on time.

Lists by themselves help to organize ideas, priorities, and to-do items, but context is what gives a list its power. By thinking about, and writing down the contextual elements of a task, you give your list power by putting limits on each task and assigning the time and resources necessary to get the tasks accomplished. Lists without context are just a rough draft, but with context they become a full-blown plan for getting things done.

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