Actually, Your Task List Is Too Organized

Alexis Haselberger
3 min readApr 29, 2024

Let me ask you a question:

Do you spend a lot of time organizing your tasks? Putting things in different categories?

Does organization feel good?

I get it. Trust me.

But here’s the thing: Don’t mistake organization for action.

Organization often feels good, but doesn’t move you forward.

I’ve worked with a lot of people who have come in with what they consider “very organized task lists” and I agree with them, they are “organized”.

But these people are still overwhelmed.

They aren’t necessarily DOING the stuff on their very organized tasklists.

One of most people’s goals, when we’re working together, is to reduce overwhelm.

To banish it, in fact.

And that’s my goal too.

And people are surprised, I think, when I suggest that perhaps, just maybe, it’s in part the commitment to “organization” that’s getting in the way of actually doing the things.

This is true of email, for sure.

But it’s also just as often true for tasks.

One way to think of it is like organizing your garage, or your hall closet.

It doesn’t make sense to just start putting things in categories and storing them in boxes.

Yes, it’s organized. But is it useful?

This is how you end up paying for a storage unit full of junk you don’t need, will never look at, and that your family will have to clean up when you die!

Instead, you want to start with making sure that you have the right stuff in the first place.

You want to get rid of the unnecessary stuff.

And you don’t want boxes, hidden inside boxes.

Instead, you want a minimally complex organizational system that gets you to the things you need as efficiently as possible.

We have a tendency to conflate the complexity of a system with it’s value.

Having a ton of nested boxes maybe “organized”, but let me repeat this: it’s not necessarily useful.

It gets in the way.

It make you throw up your hands and say “Ugh, what’s the point”.

The same is true for tasks.

If your task system requires you to look for a thing in a nested taxonomy, then you’re relying on your brain, and not the system to do the work for you.

I don’t want you to have to work so hard.

So the next time you’re spending time organizing instead of doing, I want you to ask yourself a question:

Would it suprise you to know that I only have a handful of categories in my task system?

And that I barely use them?

They aren’t necessary, because I use a method of date based prioritization.

Instead of worrying about what category something should be in, I prioritize based on the only metric that really matters when getting things done: When.

Everything has to be done in time. Nothing can be done outside of time.

(Sounds obvious when I say it like that, right?)

Yet, how often do you find yourself reorganizing an already pretty organized list?

Now, you might be thinking, “But it’s not only time, that can’t be the only factor, you must use priority level, right?”

Well, yes and no.

I don’t need a separate metric for priority, because time can do double duty.

If something is high priority, then it either needs to be scheduled in time soon, or I need to protect time for it regularly.

Either way, time, not organization, is the metric that matters.

So let me ask you: Are you mistaking organization for action?

And what would happen if you spent that time organizing prioritizing instead?

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Originally published at on April 29, 2024.