Get out of my dreams. Get into my spreadsheet.

Hi! I’m Brian! I’m 45 and I’m trying to get my shit together. My to-do list is too big for my brain to handle these days and I’m losing my mind trying. I’ve got to do something, and that something is getting things out of my head and into a Google Sheet. Now I can take a more agile approach to getting things done. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done.

Initial results are promising! I started by brain dumping my to-do list onto paper in my trusty Midori Traveler’s Notebook. Then I entered all the details into a simple spreadsheet. After about an hour playing around with the data, I ended up with a list of all the things I want to do, automatically scored and ranked and prioritized. The quickest, least expensive tasks bubble to the top. Here’s how it works.

  1. When something comes up, I add it to my Master Project List (MPL).
  2. I give it a name and a due date, and enter the estimated amounts of time and money to get it done.
  3. The sheet scores the task by adding the number of days to the due date, the hours, and the budget.
  4. When it’s time to get to work, I sort the MPL by score.

Here’s what it looks like.

ADHD: Put it away–not down.

I test drove it this weekend and loved it. I know it’s not perfect, but I feel like it’s going to make a difference. Having a formal todo list like this gives me a place to put my big ideas until it’s time to work on them. That’s huge from an a ADHD perspective–Put it away. Don’t just put it down.–But it’s also incredibly freeing. When my brain knows there’s a place for something and that something is always in its place, it can stop thinking about that thing.

Think about it like smart phone apps. How many can you open in a row before the phone gets so slow it’s useless? This little spreadsheet is like an app drawer for my brain. Now I don’t have to think about everything. I only have to think about what I’m working on right now. Because I know the rest of it will be right where I left it when it’s time to move on to the next task.

Embarrassing real world examples

The problem with cramming it all into short term memory is I can’t focus on any one thing. It’s all I can do to remember all the projects, let alone individual tasks. This leads to hasty decision making. Struggling to keep up and just get something done so it can move on to the next issue, my brain goes full consumer whore. I start buying things I think I’ll need and staging kits so everything’s ready to go when the time comes. Of course, by the time “the time” comes, I often end up kicking myself because:

  • I’ve found a better way and don’t need it.
  • It’s DOA and too late to return it.
  • I’ll be damned if I can find it.

The most recent example? (That prompted all of this, by the way.) I’ve easily got 8 hours into cleaning and polishing one side of my new canoe. Why did I do that before I put it in the water? Or bought seat cushions? Or a dry bag? Why did I buy a new rotary polisher, four grades of applicator pads, and cutting and polishing compounds, and then put the better part of two days into making [half of it] [almost] shiny before doing any of that? Because it’s shiny, of course.


Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It’s still early and I’m more concerned about building habits around my list than anything else. I know my scoring method is biased toward fast and cheap, but that’s helpful at this stage. I need quick wins and momentum to get me hooked. But I’m already seeing questions bubbling up around budgeting for the bigger projects at the bottom of the list. And there’s also the matter of building out my calendar with enough blocks of time to get things done on time, too.

About those questions…

One thing I noticed right away is how this list is biased toward fast, cheap action. You might have noticed the last two items at the bottom of my list are winterize: snow tires (for Chuck) and design/build hot tub & deck (in the backyard). These are both “due” in about six weeks. I don’t have $5,000 just lying around for these right now. And it’s not like I’m going to just set aside $1,000 a week between now and then, either. I’m definitely thinking about how I factor cost and budget and cash flow on this thing moving forward.

I’m also thinking about how I factor the time these things take. Carving up my calendar is tricky enough. Doing what the calendar says is the hard part. Three days in, I’ve already missed a couple deadlines and blown off a couple calendar events. To be fair, I was fighting off a cold over the weekend and, well, our early time estimates are often a bit too optimistic. There’s also the matter of when work and other family matters come up taking precedence over Brian’s backlog.

Success & Failure

I have to be careful not to spend too much time messing with the MPL. The idea isn’t to micromanage the workflow. It’s to free up mental bandwidth. I need to let my to-do list go so I can focus on other things throughout the day. And sleep better at night. I’m already seeing myself settle into a relatively lightweight, agile approach to managing my MPL. If I get it right, I’ll have a simple tool with me wherever I go that makes it easy for me to make the best use of my time. That’s all my brain wants. That and to go back to sleep.

Do you have any advice on all this?

If you’ve ever built anything like this or have an idea that might make my scoring/budgeting stronger, I’d love to hear it. I’m also working on carving out my calendar this week and would love to hear from anyone who’s done that sort of thing and has some advice. Leave a comment below, drop me a line, or join the forum (it’s free now) and bump the thread for this post so we can dig deeper.

Until next time, keep going fast with class and press on regardless.

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