Ten for Ten! A Big Fat To-Do List

Ten for Ten! A Big Fat To-Do List

"A Big Fat To-Do List" I haven’t made any new form designs in a while, so I decided that I should make one today to see if I would feel good about it. This is a to do list for ten tasks for you to do, designed to make each task seem hugely important and worth checking-off with a big meaty magic marker!

The Inspiration

A few weeks ago, I was catching up with my buddy Al in Germany, and he mentioned that his wife had been enjoying using the Emergent Task Planner Notebook. Apparently, she really enjoys crossing items off the list, and does so with great satisfaction. I filed it away.

Over the weekend, being grouchy because I haven’t been blogging my butt off as much as I wanted, I thought that I should get some stuff done. BAM BAM BAM! But I wasn’t in the mood for it, and managed to eke out only a lousy handful of chores. Everything I did seemed to take a long time. But I got to thinking about Al’s wife’s satisfied check lists, and thought that perhaps I should just make something new today. A big fat to-do list with MASSIVE check-off areas. Maybe instead of three things, I should try to do TEN things, but give myself an entire day to do it!

The Basic Idea

A Big Fat To-Do ListThe idea behind this is basically do ten things in ten hours, which might seem laughably generous in terms of time, but I find that it takes me all day to get even three things done. Usually, that’s because I tend to not break my to-dos down into small enough tasks, writing down a line-item like “do bills” which actually is a lengthy process of finding, filtering, opening, husking, re-categorizing, calculating, paying, and then shredding a small mountain of letters. Overall the process takes about 2-3 hours, and I split it over a couple of days. I don’t process my physical mail very often, you see. Another example of a to-do is something like, “Find out if WebGL is easy to use for an upcoming project”. That’s hours of investigation. Add to this the sundry things like “do dishes”, “eat dinner”, “clean living room”, “look up address for Dad”, “reply to Russian emails”, and so on…well, I find it a bit draining. I’d be ecstatic if I got ten things done in ten hours. Some are fast, some are slower, but it probably averages to something like one task an hour. Maybe. I’m just pulling the number out of my ass because I like the way “ten for ten!” sounds. It’s kind of a tribute to my friend Colleen’s 50 for 50 campaign to raise money for charity a few years ago.

ANYWAY, this is a prototype that I’m sharing early to see if anything about it resonates with people. I would start by picking something to do and writing it in at the top. When I finish it, I would then write in the next task. I keep the list of tasks to do in Trello and also write ’em down as they pop into my head. My goal would be to get 10 tasks of any kind, large or small, done by the end of a 10 hour shift.

Here’s the features:

10 Meaty Task Entry Lines

They’re big! There’s a huge checkbox at the right side! Fill in that circle! Or check it! There are also four quadrants around the circle if you want to fill those in too. Originally I was thinking that they could correspond to 15-minutes of effort per task, but since a task might last longer than an hour I decided not to make it requires. I left them in, though, because they make it look more important :)

You’ll notice that the first three line items have stars in the middle of the checkboxes. I put them there because I think of three things done as being a pretty good day already.

Points Awarded

Because each additional task sucks more energy out of me from a dwindling daily reserve, I assigned more points to tasks toward the end of the day. If you do all 10 tasks in ten hours, you can get 1000 points which mean whatever you want. I don’t care if you chose ten really easy tasks; you should get 1000 points for doing ’em all. The size of each award increases quite rapidly toward the end to make each additional push much more worthwhile. My reasoning is if you have 10 tasks worth 100 points apiece, it’s just a straight measurement of how many you’ve done. The idea of getting TWICE AS MANY points if you go from 3 tasks completed to 4 tasks…well, that’s more compelling. It’s sort of like a TV game show like Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Time Elapsed

On the left side, there’s a kind of “time ruler” that you can use to mark when you started and finished each task. If you only write down one task at a time at the time you decide to do it, you can draw a line from the task line’s “anchor bubble” to the right place on the time ruler. I put this in there because I thought it might look neat, and it would remind you that TIME IS PASSING. Functionally it might not actually be worthwhile, but I have often been surprised by the interesting uses people come up with. Hopefully, you will let me know what you think.

Try Out the Prototype

You can download a color PDF in either US Letter or A4. I haven’t optimized the colors or line weight for the best quality printing on inkjets, so parts of the form may look a bit murky. You should be able to get an idea of how it feels to use. Let me know what you like or don’t like! Is there an real-life use you think of that this could work with? Do you want to see it as a printed product?

The design, incidentally, has two per page. Use a paper cutter to split the page down the middle after you print it out.

These have been tested in Adobe Acrobat Reader Enjoy!


  1. carissa 11 years ago

    Love it- would love it taking up a full page, to go alon with the huge marker…and i can’t tell you how great the timing is. THANK YOU

  2. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Carissa: Cool! If I expanded it to a full page, what would you want to see more of?

  3. Liz 11 years ago

    Going to try it. Printed on card stock and because it has bigger spaces I can read it without my glasses!!

  4. Gary G 11 years ago

    I’m a big fan as you know of breaking down a full plate into smaller chunks of tasks, then each task contributes to each area of interest/strategy. I believe its a great way to round out your product portfolio.

    Its that idea of yours “functional stationary” where this tool dovetails in nicely, and I could see variants on this idea very easily, as everyone has varying styles of managing their time. Sometimes just one format locks you in when you don’t want that, so having options may be worthwhile in the future.

    I mention this since in a prior career I once worked for this type A Harvard MBA type who had our staff meet early early mornings mon, tues, fri. We each had to present our top 3 priority to do items that day, and that dynamic created an environment for others to contribute ideas/suggestions that would help each one of us make sure our top 3 would get accomplished before the next morning meeting.

    It became fairly clear over that meeting style that in general that between other distractions, followups, emails, calls, calls to nature, etc etc, that even for performers, just getting 3 priority items accomplished on any given day was a huge accomplishment.

    I could possibly see either a “top 3” post it sticky note format block being something worth considering, or perhaps a variant of the above with the top 3 being on top of a shaded block, or bolded somehow, as must do for that day.

    Thoughts for consideration, not that you aren’t busy enough!

  5. carissa 11 years ago

    Oh, I don’t even need more of anything..I just LOVE huge lists and checks. Because my daily journal is a full size, and so the half size isn’t as helpful..but i’ve already put this to use!

    I just love the full sheets of the full day you have but always have more than 3 important tasks and wished for more…this does it, so this would be in front of my daily sheet…does that help? AS ALWAYS thank you

  6. carissa 11 years ago

    (because with more space in each area i could write the smaller steps included like you said…or just write big and check big)

  7. Joan Vick 11 years ago

    this is great if several people are looking for relatively short projects: ei: in a scene or costume shop.

  8. nkmcalli 11 years ago

    It’s fantastic! I already printed it, punched it, and stuck it in my Arc binder. I like the narrow format because it fits in my arc binder. Please do this as an Amazon product. Please, please, please, please!

    Also, at the bottom where the end time box is, can you make the box smaller and add a box for “reward”. I love that you put “celebrate your success”, now I want a box where I can get specific and put “beer” or “cupcake”. :)

  9. Kris 11 years ago

    Love this…but I generally save the mindless tasks for end of day. I put the most important and demanding ones in the morning when I am (usually) at my best. I like the points idea, but maybe a version where we can distribute the points ourselves based on the task accomplishment that is most personally rewarding?

    Ditto on the previous comment about having a reward box!

  10. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Liz: That’s a great observation…big lists == no need for glasses! :)

    Gary: Good thoughts! It occurred to me afterwards that when I’m writing down tasks, I’m really writing down “short-term strategic goals”, which are far more complex to execute. I should make a form for that per your suggestion. Like the idea of having swappable functional block designs, as the overall structure of “getting things done” is pretty self-evident.

    Carrissa: Got it! I will totally do that in the next iteration, combining the insights from Gary’s comment above.

    Joan: That’s an interesting application…people just want short lists with an overall context. 1 part to-do, 1 part reminder, 1 part physical anchor. Overall effect is to remove the burden of thinking and remembering the larger strategic goal context, so one can just work.

    nkmcalli: Excellent application of the Arc Binder! I’m thinking of adding an entire extra REWARD TIER BOX now instead of removing the “Points”

    Kris: I was thinking that for the mindless tasks, one could totally exploit the point system and use them to get BIG BIG POINTS :-) It’s not a flaw in the system…I think if you get any 10 things done at all, you should feel pretty damn good. A version with distributing points yourself is a good idea, but would require a separate worksheet form. You could perhaps mash-up something from the concrete goals tracker in the meantime! I’ll see what I can do; might be a “paid” variant if it is a lot of work!

  11. Carissa 11 years ago

    Day two and still loving it and also excited to see the changes thank you!

  12. Patrícia 11 years ago

    I’ve been following the blog and using your productivity materials for some time now. Today I’ve decided to leave a comment just to let you know that, now, this one is my favourite! I love lists and love to cross the tasks after accomplish them – you can actually feel the power! :)

    I agree with Gary, the shades in the 3 most important tasks can help prioritising.

    Thank you so much!

  13. Gill 11 years ago

    This has really caught my imagination and I’m testing it out. I like the two lists per page because I’m using one side for home and one for work (for me the two are very separate).

    At work, I’m testing out a process where I review my task list in the morning and pick the 10 things I’m going to get done. The biggest and meatiest are going at the bottom (the top 3 alluded to by Gary), while the essential smaller tasks go at the top. And it’s already helping me to see the reality of how much I can get done, versus my innate mentality that time is fluid… I would like to see a way of highlighting the big three.

    At home, the big three are kept for the tasks I always put off. And I’m making a rule for myself, that if a task gets carried over from one day to another, then I have to break it into two sub-tasks.

    For busy days at work, when I’ve got lots of meetings scheduled, then my tasks become the objectives I have personally for each meeting.

    And I’ve given myself the rule that I can’t check email (after my initial triage) until I’ve earned 50 points…

    The format is really clicking for me and — hopefully — helping me to put into action, a lot of the productivity principles that I know but struggle to do.

  14. Gill 11 years ago

    Oh, and I love the quadrants around the checkbox. If I start on a task, but then can’t complete it because I’m waiting on someone else / an external factor, then I shade in one of the quadrants, to recognize my progress.

  15. flight16 11 years ago

    I love this form.

    I second some of the ideas from above: 1) “reward” box at the bottom to fill in something to look forward to. It can replace the “Celebrate your progress” box. 2) Full-page versions with more room to break down the big item into sub-items… or just write really big. 3) I like the stars as a visual indicator for the top 3 tasks.

    Some additional thoughts: 1) This is highly personal, but the exclamation points in the title are a bit too energetic for me. I would prefer one (eg. removing the exclamation point from “Do 10 things in 10 hours!” subtitle) or none. 2) I’m thinking about using this primarily for my personal time management. I’d like to use it after work, which means only having 2-4 hours. In that situation a bliz-list, sprint list, or something would be nice: a list of 5-ish tasks to complete in, say, an hour.

    I’m excited to try it out next weekend, and I can’t wait for the next iteration!

  16. Gill 11 years ago

    Some more feedback — I really love this form. I think this is because it almost makes a game of what I need to get done, so I’m more inspired to get started. I typically put the worst or most important task at the bottom — 500 points is a big incentive.

    I really like the space at the bottom — I use it for jotting down other things I think of, or more things I could do once the 10 are done. (I still think I can do more than 10, but so far I haven’t managed it once yet!)

    I don’t use the time on the left hand side, but instead I tend to jump around the list, depending on mood or urgency. I use the left margin for indicating linked tasks (e.g. phone calls, PC tasks, budget tasks).

    Thanks for helping me focus and get more — and more valuable — tasks done in my day!

  17. Gill 11 years ago

    So I’ve just had my most productive day at work in ages — 9 of my 10 tasks ticked off. But I’ve just added it up and I only have 845 points… as far as I can see the list adds up to 940! If you do make a second version of this, having the full 1000 points would be fab.

    This list has had a huge impact on my productivity, focus and ability to get stuff done. Thank you!!!!!!

  18. Andrew 11 years ago

    Day 3 of using this tool, really liking it. There are a few things I would offer as suggestions for improvement, all of which come with the caveat of “this is just what works better for me”. ;)

    I’m not a designer at all (I’m a web developer), but I’m relatively handy at remixing with Photoshop, so here’s a rough example of my suggestions: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/65276139/First%205%20of%2010%20Tasks.png

    Explanation of changes:

    • Removed dotted line along elapsed time column: I found I wanted to use these light-blue bubbles to write a one-word description of which task I was working on during each period of activity. The dotted lines got in the way of writing these notes.

    • Shortened time from +0X00 to just +X: This gives more room for writing notes, and lessened confusion with 24-hour time. Also allows for each time period to be any amount of time, rather than implying it must be an hour.

    • Reversed position of ‘check-off area’ and task description: Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve grown very accustomed to always having the checkbox on the left. This allows me to see at-a-glance what’s been started, completed, or untouched more easily, but I may be the only one who prefers this.

    • “Hollowed out” the check-off area: If a task has been completed, using your original design, I would feel the need to completely fill in the small white bubble. It should be pointed out that I don’t have ready access to markers, so I use a pen for this task. With the bigger white bubble, I don’t feel the need to fill the whole bubble, as I can easily make a big X and see it clearly enough to know it’s done – whereas with the thick blue circles around your original design I couldn’t see the thin lines of my pen.

    I use the check-off area for more than just checking off, though. If a task goes uncompleted, then when I’m transferring it to the next day I mark the bubble with a T. If the task needs to be moved to my backlog of “someday” projects, I mark it with a B. The bigger bubble facilitates these marks nicely.

    • Points checkoff adjusted into checkboxes: I separated the points boxes from the task boxes and made them into checkboxes themselves. I found that I very very rarely, if ever, accomplish tasks in sequential order, so having the ability to mark my earned points separately from the tasks makes for a better system.

    Here’s a picture of one actual usage of the list so you can see how I used it: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/65276139/Andrew%20Usage%20Reference.jpg

    I only modded the first 5 because it was starting to take me too long (darn you perfectionism). ;) Here’s my PSD file if it’s helpful at all: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/65276139/2013-TEN4TEN-US-C1-2UP%20-%20Andrew%20Edits.psd

    I am also in favor of the previous suggestion for a “Reward” box at the bottom of the list, perhaps in place of the “End Time” or in addition to it. Definitely keep the “Total Points” though, as I’m going to be keeping a running tally of daily and weekly points to keep track of what days I’m the most productive.

    I can also confirm Gill’s point that the points along the left do not in fact add up to 1000. One possible alternative sequence for you: 10+10+20+35+50+75+100 + 100+ 200 + 400. These represent the following increases per point level: +0 +10 +15 +15 +25 +25 +100 +100 +200. I am more than willing to admit that coming up with an exponential point scale is quite difficult, took me almost 15 minutes to arrive at that one and I still don’t think it’s perfect. ;)

    Great job on this Dave! Really looking forward to future iterations. :)

  19. Gill 11 years ago

    Was thinking about this (it’s still the best way I have of getting my focus for each day!) and the points scale. My suggestion would be: 10, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, 100, 150, 500.

    I love the 500-pointer! You wouldn’t believe how hard I try each day to get that task done.

  20. Andrew 10 years ago

    Haha, almost two months later and I’m still working on this concept, trying to tweak it further. Love me my to-do lists. ;)

    Finished the first remixed version I was working on back in October. Actually, finished it just a couple days after Gill’s last post on the 16th but forgot to mention here that it was done. ;) Decided to utilize Gill’s point scale, does indeed feel awesome to get that 500 pointer at the end. Here’s my finished PDF: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/65276139/2013-TEN4TEN-US-C1-2UP%20-%20Andrew%20Edits.pdf and my finished PSD: 2013-TEN4TEN-US-C1-2UP – Andrew Edits.psd.

    Earlier today I found this: http://patrickrhone.com/2013/04/22/the-dash-plus-system/ and thought you (Dave) would really like the simplicity and icon-driven approach. I’m thinking I might make a remix 2.0 version that incorporates this concept. What’s particularly brilliant about it is that every line item starts with a simple dash and then you embellish from there. Handy for a template!

    Having used my remixed version for almost a full two months now, here are my findings and opinions:

    • For me, as a salaried worker, I have found I don’t use the time column. I also usually don’t record start and end times, only the current date.
    • Really wanting some dotted lines in the notes area at the bottom. My inability to write straight without lines embarasses me. ;)
    • I rarely use the four corners of the ‘completion area’, but on particularly large or lengthy tasks I still like being able to indicate that a task has been started. Usually I do this by only writing one-half of the big ‘X’ I use to denote completion. With the dash-plus system, I’ll still need something to indicate ‘started’, so I may have to keep at least one corner.
    • The points scale checkboxes on the right side have been nice, but I’m not a big fan of adding up the scores at the end of each day (I’m lazy that way). I’ve made for myself a little post-it attached to my monitor that has the score totals pre-added-up for me (I’m clever that way), but it’s still somewhat annoying looking it up (still lazy!). I think the 2.0 remix from me will replace “points for this task” with “points accumulated at this level”, meaning the scale will go from Gill’s (above) to 10, 20, 40, 70, 110, 170, 250, 350, 500, 1000.
    • I still don’t write out my tasks in any sort of pre-defined order, nor do I complete them in any order, so the stars in the first three boxes are a good idea but don’t do much for me. They’re going the way of the buffalo in 2.0.

    You still hashing out thoughts on this tool Dave? Very interested to see what else you might come up with for it. :)

  21. paige 9 years ago

    Love this, so glad I stumbled on it. Would love to see one that would fit a pocket or personal size filofax