The n-list productivity approach

Mar 19 2021 by Satyajit

There are numerous methods available for getting things done. With simple methods as just a single sheet of todos to more complicated methods such as the Getting Things Done approach. And there is a plethora of tools out there which will provide you with different functionality to keep track of your tasks.

I have been plagued with what tool to use and what method to follow. I’ve come to an understanding that there is no perfect tool and there is no perfect method. You need to find your own approach inspired by the many around.

I get a few hundred emails, a similar number of messages on Slack, and a couple of action items from meetings each day. How is it possible to keep track of all these and to get them done? The simple answer is I can’t get them all done. So I devised a method to do the most impactful things.

Start with a list of topics that you are working on. Topics are projects that you are working on like a reorganisation of your teams, or a new product that you are releasing. They could also be a trip you are taking very soon. Once you have the list of topics that you are working on prioritise them according to the most impact that has on your personal and professional life. As an example these are my prioritised topics:

For each of these topics write down things you’d like to do. Every time you are assigned a new task add it to the appropriate topic. For tasks that cannot be added to the existing topics I have four topics based on the Eisenhower matrix1

I also have one more topic called the Tickler2 topic. This is where I add things I want to be reminded about in a specific date.

These are my n-lists. This is how they are ordered:

Now that I have the list of things to do, how do I get these done? The simplest approach is to go through the topics one by one and complete the tasks in it. This way you get to complete the things that has the most impact. If you have a bit too many topics there is a chance you never get to some of the topics. For this I find it useful to schedule time when I specifically look at a particular topic. Some topics can be daily and some can be weekly. For example I set aside about 12 hour every day to schedule items in the Important & Not Urgent Topic.

I don’t add topics often. I only create them if I they are impactful to either my personal or professional life. When I realise there is a new topic I take time to reorder the list.

The beauty of this approach is that you can use any tool that you are already using, like Todoist, Apple Reminders, or even a paper notebook. I started off with a paper notebook and have migrated to Apple Reminders.

  2. This comes from Getting Things Done’s Tickler file.