#16 - Add a parking lot to your to-do list

Never forget about unfinished tasks.

Add a parking lot to your to-do list

In the summer of 2018 I received an offer by Kathryn & David Allen to attend a two-day seminar on the fundamentals of Getting Things Done®, the famous productivity methodology that sold over 2 million book copies worldwide.

It wasn’t just any seminar — I actually had the opportunity to fill in for someone in what was essentially a “train the trainer” version of their entry level class, filled with people who had integrated GTD® so deeply that someone's project board even included a to-do list dedicated entirely to their dog, with current and future to-do's.

As extreme as that may be, I fell in love with many of the concepts discussed and highly recommend reading the book or following a class yourself.

As is the case with most great seminars or books, you tend to remember a few elements that stick with you. For me, one of those elements was the waiting-for box.

Or as I like to call it, the parking lot.

But first, why and how do to-do lists work?

In the words of David Allen: “Our minds aren't built for holding ideas”.

Writing down what is on your mind quite literally frees up cognitive space that your brain will otherwise use to constantly remind you not to forget about XYZ.

As a CEO I am constantly switching from discussions, to phone calls, to trouble-shooting for a client, to urgent emails and back to new discussions. The only way I can be fully present in each of those moments is by constantly offloading my actions into my to-do app, so that I can move on knowing it can reviewed later.

Fundamentally, three things matter most in writing my to-do lists:

  1. Capture it all, or don't bother. Keeping half in your head and half on a to-do list is still going to give you a 100% of the cognitive stress.

  2. Capture it all in once place. Splitting tasks over multiple apps or loose papers doesn't bring me any closer to feeling in control.

  3. Always think in ‘next actions’. Something as complex as designing a marketing plan might paralyse you into procrastination, however the very first step of that process (your next action) might be as simple as “schedule a brainstorm with the marketing team”. Write that down instead.

Now let me throw you a slight curve-ball.

What if your next action requires input from someone else before you can complete it? What if you need to schedule a brainstorm with the marketing team but you're still waiting to hear back via email whether a meeting room is available?

Enter the parking lot.

Waiting for someone else to respond creates an interesting to-do list dilemma.

  • You could hit the check-box on your to-do and consider it done, but at the risk of getting no response and forgetting about your unfinished task afterwards.

  • You could leave it open on your to-do list, unnecessarily cluttering your list with an item that is currently outside of your control.

Neither are great and there is a better solution.

Within my Microsoft To Do app I keep track of multiple lists. There's one for my personal life, one for work and one dedicated entirely to the Hatchet.

Each of these lists are split between an inbox, a parking lot and a backlog of tasks called ‘some day’.

Whenever I'm dependent on someone else to complete a task I will drag that to-do from my inbox to the parking lot with a description of who I'm waiting for and when I feel it's realistic to have received a reply. All you need to do next is periodically review your parking lot.

And that .. is how you never forget about an unfinished task.