The To Do List Algorithm

The To Do List Algorithm is a human algorithm that calibrates the need to get items completed with limitations on motivation, time, and willpower.

  1. 9m: Work: First task on the list.
    • The first task on the list can't always be done in 9m, but you must work on the task. This forces you to break off a smaller task from it that will move it forwards. Wherever I end at, I leave a quick note to myself for the next time it comes up.
  2. 6m: Personal: First task.
    • The algorithm optimizes for moving things forward, not task completion. If I don't finish a task, I bump it to the next day.
  3. 5m: Fun. Do whatever you want.
  4. 9m: Work: Quickest tasks.
    • These are my favorite, I take off anything I think I can do quickly and easily and get as many done as I can in the time provided.
  5. 6m: Personal: Quickest tasks.
  6. 5m: Fun.
  7. (Repeat)

If I'm feeling really motivated, I have another algorithm that skips the fun parts but keeps the time intervals the same.



Spending 45% of your work day actually working might not sound very productive. Personally, I will use this algorithm for the full day, including lunch. I also pause the timer when I'm in a meeting. So the math actually works out to an extremely productive work day.

Compare to a work day with an hour lunch break and one 15m break. That's 84.4% work.

A work day with half devoted to meetings is 50% work plus 45% of the remaining 50% (22.5%) = 72.5% work. That's less than one hour short of the 84.4% day and you maintain a fresh motivated state the entire time.

The 84.4% day isn't really a fair comparison because anyway because it doesn't work well in the first place. If it's hard to stay engaged, tiring, stressful, and the quality of work suffers, the goal should be to move away from this model and optimize more than just hours spent working.