The 6-box to do list

Updated April 30, 2017. Original post 2015. 

This is a thing that I like. I didn’t come up with it, a smarter person did. His name is Peter Bregman and he’s the guy who came up with this to-do list made of six boxes.

I’ve created a to-do list that’s made of six boxes — one for each of my five areas of focus and the 6th labeled “the other 5%”. That other 5% box is like sugar — a little might be OK but your day should never contain more than 5% of the activities that don’t fit into your five areas of annual focus.

If you go to his website you can get a Productivity Planning Kit that includes a template for the 6-box to do list. Also it has some excerpts from his book 18 Minutes. Great book. Well worth a read. I should read it again, in fact.

So I’ve used Bregman’s 6-box to do list off and on since 2012, which is when I read the 18 Minutes book. (I just checked my Kindle highlights. 58 highlighted passages. Finished reading on December 7, 2012. That’s useless information, but it’s cool to be able to find it so easily.)

I recently came back to the 6-box method because I found myself getting having day after day when I couldn’t finish my day’s list.

That means, of course, that I’m putting too much stuff on it.

Or I’m just being lazy. 
Or a combination.

Yeah, it’s a combination. Sometimes I’m capable of getting through the whole list, but I’m either lazy or resistant for some other reason. Usually this is when it’s stuff I don’t really enjoy doing, or am intimidated by, so the process of starting is scary.

Anyway, the 6-box to do list helps me. It’s tough to just look at your list and decide what to cut from it. Everything seems important. How do you know what doesn’t belong?

Six boxes.
Five areas.

The five areas are your main areas. Bregman refers to them as your areas of annual focus. Something that’s an important focus area for you this year might not be important next year. You don’t have to feel like you’re defining your main areas for the rest of your life.

Five is a big enough number that I can include what I think is important for work and personal stuff. That’s nice, too, because I only have one life and one day. I don’t get one day for work stuff and one day for personal stuff; it all has to fit into these 24 hours. It’s one life, my life. I don’t like having two systems or two methods or two lists — one for work, one for the rest – because inevitably I focus on one and neglect the other. Then rush back to rebalance. Then back. Then back again. It’s a seesaw. I don’t really like seesaws.

Anyway, five areas.
Right now, mine are
personal growth

and then the sixth box is the other 5%.

I love the 5% concept.

Because what ends up happening on those days when I have a list that’s too long and I don’t finish it is usually that I put a lot of 5% things on there
I did them before my more important things
I thought I could get through them fast
I couldn’t
then the day was over
I didn’t do the important things.

I like lists because I don’t like keeping all the stuff in my head. It makes me crazier than seesaws.

But when I just write out all the things I can think of that I might need or want to do, it’s not a good to-do list. It’s a brain dump.

From that brain dump I could make a better list of what I’m actually going to give my time to, today.

And using the 6-box approach helps me sort out what matters most from what matters a little.

Six boxes! Try it.