My Simple Daily Todolist as a Software Engineer - Maximize Productivity, Minimize Waste

Date: 2024-05-22 | create | reflect | creation-cycle | productivity | software-engineer |

Life is made up of building blocks of time - getting the daily block right is crucial to leading a productive (and fulfilling) life. I like building Simple Scalable Systems as a means of codifying best practices to maximize impact while minimizing waste so I can move on to other things. So I've built my own 3S todolist to try and give each day a good chance of success.

Previously we discussed how I schedule my days from long-term plans to hourly time blocks and here we'll zoom into the todolist portion.

Observations on Productivity

My todolist is a 3S solution based on a few core observations. We'll start with these observations to give context on why my todolist takes the form it does.

1: Work follows the power law

  • There is infinite work
  • A very small % is impactful
  • Thus you can get the majority of the impact for minimal cost by focusing only on the top things

This is similar to the 80/20 rule and applies to most domains (though of course not all).

2: Focus is finite

I like the saying "you can do anything but you can't do everything". The truth is our resources (time / energy / money) are finite and human brains are not very good at multi-tasking.

This essentially means that resource allocation is a zero-sum game. The resources you allocate to A will no longer be allocatable to B.

My mental model of this is essentially that our focus is like the Eye of Sauron - it's extremely powerful but can only be focused on one thing at a time. This means it must be very thoughtful about where it puts its attention / resources because it really can only do one thing at a time.

So while it may feel productive to try and do multiple things at the same time - usually it just means expending more resources on things that don't matter at the expense of things that do.

3: Busy is Bad

A lot of productivity ideas are about doing things more efficiently. This is generally good but often this leads to its own pitfalls - just doing more things overall.

Again this feels productive / positive but given the previous 2 observations is 1) largely not useful and 2) often leads to unexpected / implicit focus-splitting.

I think the core misunderstanding is the end goal. The end goal of productivity is not to do more things - it's to enable you to achieve more value, whatever that means to you. The less energy you focus on non-useful things, the more you can focus on things that are actually valuable.

Over time a focus on "just doing more things" is a great way to feel overwhelmed, tired, and eventually burnout. It may feel productive short term but is no way to be productive long-term.

Rest is important. Busy is bad. Impactful is good. So simply focus on the most important things and achieve greater productivity long term.

(Note: This often means it's better to do nothing than to spend energy doing low impact things. Go have some time off to recharge so you have energy available when actually impactful things come up.)

My Daily Todolist

My todolist tries to solve for these by simply being short - 7 items max. This has several benefits:

  • Only important things - I can only list a few things so naturally it must be the most important.
  • Focus on important things - There are only 7 things so it minimizes distraction (and procrastination) from the unimportant ones.
  • Save energy for important things - Once the list is done, I'm done. I did enough - go recharge for the next day.

Daily Todolist

I organize my todolist by the big domains I organize my life around - the phases of the Creation Cycle. This helps me stay on top of the areas I really care about.

  • Observe: 2 - Being in the world, connecting with friends
  • Create: 3 - Work, projects
  • Reflect: 2 - Maintenance, chores, rest, etc

Now this doesn't mean I'm only doing 7 things per day. Most of my todos are "milestones" or outcomes I want to achieve and usually there are multiple "tasks" within a milestone to accomplish that outcome.


  • Exercise - it's not just one exercise, but a program hitting some muscle groups
  • Projects - it's usually not one task but completing a milestone / story for the project
  • Reflect - it's usually not one thing but an outcome - laundry, budgeting, plan for month

There are of course other random things that life throws at you so those end up either:

  • Being done directly
  • Added to todolist
  • Scheduled for later

But generally this is my todolist and is 7 items ~90% of the time.

What Productivity Systems get Wrong

While we're on the topic of todolists and productivity systems at large I wanted to touch on some things I see in a lot of productivity systems that I think are counter productive.

The main thing is wasting time / energy / focus on things that are not impactful. This comes up in many ways:

  • Not having a prioritization system - Thus spend a lot of effort working on non-impactful things. This is similar to The Build Trap.
  • Having a productivity system that organizes all work - Again this means a lot of effort / focus spent on things that are not impactful. Similar to Agile backlog grooming (I have a lot of issues with Agile but that's another post).
  • Focusing on process > impact - Systems are only as useful as they are impactful. If you keep refactoring your productivity system / blindly following it but never get benefits from it - it's a waste of time. Similar to complex Notion-based organizers, most Agile systems that involve burn-down charts, me when I was younger.

The ways to resolve these are generally pretty simple - just focus on the impact you want to have. From there everything falls into place.

  • Easy to prioritize - the things that have the best impact ROI come first.
  • Easy to organize - The things that are impactful will come up again. If they don't come up again they weren't actually that impactful. So no need to reorganize the infinite things you could do - most of them are not useful (this is mental hoarding - bad).
  • Easy to shed useless process - if it's not solving a problem / producing impact then it's wasteful. Drop it.


I've thought long and hard about my productivity systems - probably too much honestly - and ultimately found that it all comes down to impact. My todolist is a 3S Solution for turning that finding into something I can use everyday - it won't work for everyone but it works well for me. Find what works for you, it's different for everyone.

Q: How do you organize your days? What systems do you employ to do this efficiently?

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