On weekly to-do lists

On weekly to-do lists

Several years ago one of my bosses asked me to send him a planning email each Friday. The email would contain:

  • a list of all accomplishments over the past week
  • a list of outstanding pieces of work
  • a list of all work to be attempted in the subsequent week.

To begin with, I hated it with a passion. After all, I had always managed to fulfill my commitments without doing such a thing. It felt… constraining. I would not feel free to re-arrange tasks without explanation. Damn!

So I gritted my teeth and followed instructions. Every Friday I would post off that wretched email and every Monday I would refer to it as I planned my weekly activities. After a while, I started grouping tasks on the email. I would also find myself adding little comments that explained dependencies, links to other pieces of work, and so on. By about two months, I found myself quite dependent upon this little list. In fact, really enjoyed ticking off accomplishments and, where I failed to complete something, I found myself heavily contemplating the reasons for non-accomplishment and how I would face similar issues in future. I learned to love the list.

So why am I posting this here, on my blog?

Well, my eyes are now pretty much completely healed. I am still waiting for a start date on my new job and so have time to do things (e.g. write, cook, art, etc). I am also getting in some reading, including my traditional annual read of Masters of Doom by David Kushner. And it is this book that has inspired this post.

Masters of Doom is about the tiny group of people who created a number of computer games that forever changed the face of popular culture. Foremost among these was Doom, a first-person-shooter game that pitted gamers against demons and monsters. After this, the team began splintering as Quake was being developed. But the die was cast and most modern day first person shooter games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Counterstrike, etc owe a lot to the lessons learned in developing the physics engine and gameplay that were developed by this small team.

Anyway, about halfway through the book, John Carmack (creator of both the physics engine behind Doom and the one behind Quake and the innovative programmer of numerous 3D graphics techniques) starts using .plan files that list his immediate goals and tasks and any accompanying thoughts. These he then publicly published. Very inspirational!

Reading this reminded me of the habit that I have not followed for the (nearly) two years since I last worked. I am wondering whether I should extend my weekly work lists to every aspect of my creative life. Admittedly, I did follow the PMBOK project management approach when I designed that 3D x-ray machine model, and PMBOK provides structure to a project. But what I am talking about is more than simply projects – it is the bigger picture including projects.

Do any of you do something like this?



PS: the header picture for this story is a screenshot of an old MS Project document of mine when I was managing four projects in a previous job (suitably blurred so no details are discernable)




  1. I don’t think I’ve ever done something as thorough as this. At university, I made to-do lists for myself all the time. Now, I generally only make them if the workload has crossed a threshold where I’m afraid I won’t remember some items that need to be done.


    1. You strike me as a dynamic and structured sort already. Just reading your blog you come across that way. Me, over the past two years I’ve really let my structure slide. :(


  2. I used to do something like this while enrolled in college for life in general, not just studies and assignments. I was a single parent and full time student back then and it really saved my sanity. Reading this post makes me wonder if returning to a system like this would be beneficial again. Not sure why I stopped doing it.


    1. I wondering for myself because I am just not getting things done. A lot of this is down to family commitments, but I also think that I have permitted myself to drift into an unstructured life and I don’t like that. It’s funny, but when I worked by day and did university by night, even though my daughter was young, I used to achieve so much more because structure was imposed upon me by my commitments.


  3. I have those paper notebooks where I jot down hobby-related stuff – things to test, ideas to try, stuff missing from my character WIPs etc. For things related to paid jobs, I set up reminders on my phone if there are some extra tasks that don’t fit in the routine. And that’s all =)


    1. Yes, you strike me as the well organised type of person :)


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