I try to follow Getting Things Done by David Allen. I was having lots of problems with a really long Someday/Maybe list which was really hard to review during my Weekly Review, so I found a few ways to deal with it. The first is to simply skim that list moreso than read every detail, but know what to skim is important. I commented over at this post but I thought the comment might be useful to others with really long S/M lists, so here’s the comment:
My S/M list is long (over 200, maybe 300 items) which makes reviewing this list during the weekly review a bit of a hassle. So I’ve done three things:
1. Divided my list up based on when they might be conceivably actionable (by time and by context). So, I have seperate “toRead” lists which I look at if/when I’m looking for a book to read, a “toWatch” list, and a seperate “toBuy” list for when I have a bit of extra money. That is, if I know I have a bit of extra money in a given week, I’ll read that list otherwise I’ll just skim it.
2. Set a rule: put something on the list after I’ve thought of it the second time. I used to put things on the list when I would first think about and get excited about them…except I have way too many ideas which are just interesting the first time and upon sober reflection I would never do them. If something comes up a second time in my head, it might be something I might end up doing.
3. Every weekly review, try to eliminate at least one item off the list, again to keep the list manageable. Some items I just don’t feel as interested in or connected to as I used to. Or my life direction has changed and items which used to be relevant aren’t anymore. Or, I’ll simply realize my motivation for having written something down and decide I don’t want to connect with that motivation anymore. “Read Shakespeare” sounds nice and all, but the reason it used to be on my list was cause it was on other people’s lists of things to do before they die, and cause I thought it was something that would make me “cultured”. But, I realized that unless I want to read Shakespeare out of interest, there’s no point in putting that on my list cause it’ll never get done and it’ll be an injustice to a great artist. I also realized that Shakespeare’s main audiences tended to be illiterate, so it’s funny that its “cultured” to know his work today.
Similarly, “write a book” is one of those things everyone wants to have done, but not everyone wants to actually do page by page. Saying I’m an author at a party is great and all, but it’s not something I’m genuinely interested in right now. And “writing a book” is kinda like “burning a cd”. What matters is what’s shared on either medium. Some things are just best shared in book form.
I would like to add one more note: check out Getting Things Done FAST. It’s a hard-to-find (though easily available on torrents) recording of a GTD seminar by David Allen. It’s really good. He emphasizes that these lists are not to constrict you or to be taken as overbearing rules, but to simply get off your own back so you can go off and live your life. Often, he says, he’ll go do things that weren’t on any lists, but the reason he can do that is cause he has his lists so he’s off his own back.