The 1 Minute To-Do List

If you’re like most teachers you have a never ending list of things to do. Creating materials, grading, emails, and those really fun mandatory trainings that we all have to do at the beginning of the year.

It took me a long time to get into a groove to be able to keep up with the never ending flow of tasks that needed to get done. I’m really bad about working on one thing, my email dings, and I jump over to that task. Most of the time I’d forget to go back to the original task until right before it was due and I had to rush to get everything done.

A few years ago I came across a blog post, and I wish I could remember where it was so I could link to it, that made a huge change. The tl;dr version is that if I’m not actively working on something and a new task comes in that I can complete in under 60 seconds, I do it right then. If it’s going to take more than a minute, it goes onto a to-do list and sorted by date and priority.

If I am actively working on something, I don’t look at emails as they come in. And, of course if I’m working with students I don’t look at emails either.

Once a task makes it to a list, I don’t think about it again. It’s on a list and I’ll get to it when I have the time.

Although, sometimes a task gets added to a list and I’m not actively doing anything else so I go ahead and start. It still goes on the list first though so if I don’t finish it doesn’t get forgotten.

A Week At A Time

The other thing that I’ve found helps is to keep a to-do list of what needs to get done this week, sorted by day instead of just what has to get done today.

Two advantages to seeing my to-do lists as an overview like this.

First, it lets me see what days I might have more to do than others. Do I have a bunch of grading planned for later this week, but not much to do today? Maybe I should go ahead and try to knock out some of it out.

And it helps me stay busy. My personality is such that I feel better at the end of the day if I feel like I accomplished something. Knowing that I got enough done that my to-do list is cleared for the next couple of days is awesome.

Mobile is Key

Teaching computer science, I’m at least close to a computer pretty much all the time. It’s easy enough to keep Todoist open in Chrome to add stuff to my lists as they come up. But it was getting everything on multiple devices that made a huge difference.

Think about how often a student asks you to do something. Most of the time it’s a small task, but not something you can do right then. Maybe the gradebook has an 87 on an assignment, but they’re pretty sure they got a 92 and would like you to double check. Maybe they’d like a recommendation letter. There’s a huge list of things that we do for students that can’t be done right when they ask, but can spend the 15 seconds to put it on a to-do list so it doesn’t get forgotten.

And, of course the same is true of the people you work with asking for things.


I’ve used the paid version Remember the Milk for years, and it did what I needed to. It kept track of my to-do list and let me quickly add items as needed. Honestly though, it always felt a little cludgy and the only reason I upgraded to the paid version was because Android widgets weren’t available with a free account.

Recently switched to Todoist, currently a free account but I’ll very likely be upgrading to a paid account soon.

Not something I can quantify, but it just feels simpler to add tasks and put them in the right spot using Todoist. If I have something that’s due on Friday I can just type Friday and Todoist is smart enough to put the due date. With Remember the Milk I had to put a symbol in front of the due date. Not a big deal, but one more thing to keep track of.

And admittedly trivial, but I like the interface better on Todoist. Again, not something that’s quantifiable. But I just think it looks better.


New task comes across your desk. Can you finish it in under a minute? Do it now. Otherwise it goes on a to-do list to do when you have time.

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