Creating a backlog (or how to deal with a long task list)

Long task list

Everyone is used to a task list that grows until it is overwhelming, but since introducing concepts from Getting Things Done and Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management I have noticed a large improvement in my task management. However over the last few months my task list has grown and grown and at the end of December I was overdue by 93 days. I knew I could reduce its length (12 sides of A5 paper) as I have done previously , but I felt it was time for more serious action.

There are some tasks you’ll never get to – and holding on to them generates a constant state of guilt and disappointment, feelings that have an adverse effect on your productivity.

Julie Morgenstern – Never read emails in the morning

There are several problems with having a long task list, and one of the worst is the energy you spend on the list; trying to complete it, worrying about it, trying to forget about it.  There is also the issue of losing track of what is happening in the moment because you are thinking of old tasks. There is always such a great feeling when you complete an old task, so imagine that feeling multiplied by the number of tasks on your list as you remove them from the your current task list.

The first task was to look through my task list and remove items that should not be on there, Julie Morgenstern suggests implementing the 4Ds; Delete, Delay,Delegate and Diminish. This reduced my list to 78 days overdue and 5 sides of A5. That was good, but not good enough.

Whenever I find that I am getting behind, the temptation is to struggle on trying to clear it. This usually means that I get further and further bogged down. I’ve now learned that it is far better and easier to declare a backlog, and move all the material I am behindhand with out of my sight to be dealt with as a separate project. Then I start afresh with the new stuff coming in.

Mark Forster – Do it tomorrow


So following Mark Forster’s advice I declared a backlog. I have written out my task list to the end of December on blue paper to highlight it is not my current task list and made it a closed list by drawing a line below the last task so the backlog can not grow any longer. On the 2nd January I started with a completely clear task list and each day as I plan my day I work on one item from my backlog as the current initiative.

One of the reasons backlogs build up in the first place is that we attract far too much inessential stuff.

Mark Forster – Do it tomorrow

That is an obvious statement, but it is something easily forgotten, particularly when you start feeling the pressure at work.  Stephen at HDBizBlog suggested I needed to either delegate more tasks or do more of them now because they are short duration tasks. I thought about this as I wrote my backlog list and noticed there were indeed a few short duration items and a few points I could delegate, but the most frequent type of item that should not be on there were agenda items. These are now in the correct section of my organiser.

If you are looking for more ideas on reducing your task length, here are some more posts to read

Kate Davis (397 Posts)

Kate is a working mum of two children, with a desire to do a wide range of things from writing to video editing. I know to achieve all these interests I need to be as productive as possible. Facts about Kate: I get great pleasure using spreadsheets, I’m teaching myself Photoshop Elements, I learnt sign language to use with my children before they could speak, I’ve written a journal for over 25 years, I dream of publishing a novel and I've written this blog for over 7 years.

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  1. Posted January 8, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Hooray for you! I knew that there were things on that list that didn’t belong there. I can just imagine the anxiety that you were feeling about so many things being past due.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Posted January 9, 2008 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Great Post Kate! I am a firm believe in keeping a “realistic” task list and it’s an empowering feeling to have control over what is going on in your life… no matter how chaotic. I really enjoy your blog!

  3. Posted January 10, 2008 at 9:29 pm | Permalink


    Yes there was some anxiety about the number of items on my list, however I knew a lot of them were nice to do tasks so I wasn’t too concern, the really worry came from knowing the important tasks were hidden amongst the pages of the list. Things are much clearer at the moment.

    I am also taking slightly longer to think about tasks before writing them down so I can decide if I should complete them now; thank you for the tip.

  4. Posted January 10, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the comment Megan, it is good to know people like my blog! :D

    I have to admit I don’t feel fully in control yet, but I am certainly closer. When I feel the worries coming in I remind myself how much my organisation has improved over the last year so therefore I must be much more in control!

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