Deliberately Vague Lists

We all know that we are told to make our to-do lists as detailed, ‘actionable’, and broken down into manageable chunks, as possible. So we all write down well thought out next actions into our lists.

Or do we? Think about it – perhaps the opposite is true. Writing small, considered tasks can break our work flow, make more work for us, and become a barrier to us from keeping easy lists.

Perhaps then, a vague to do list is actually the most efficient model.

Lifehacker has a little more on the idea of a vague to do list, which we will summarize here.

This system uses

  • A list of current projects/ long term objectives/ medium term goals/ overall life priorities.
  • A to-do list system of any sort (electronic, paper), that allows you to mark (but keep) your completed items.
  • A printer (optional)


“The idea is to keep as little structure as possible so you can just go through the items and pick something that you want, then add the details yourself. Adding those details requires you to think, and when you come up with a fun idea on the spot it feels a lot better than checking off a minor task.”

Write a to-do list that contains everything you want to do in an average week – as well as for this specific month. Examples might include:

~ Record some of your own music

~ Improve your finances

~ Add to the amount of automation in your life

~ Work on that big work project

~ Think of things that you’re putting off and do one of them

The key to these is that they are only “a vague list offer starting points, which is enough to get you thinking of ideas. A vague list provides the option of picking a small or large task depending on the time available to you. There are no restrictions regarding order, and you can do as much or as little of the list as you want.”

Mark each item you work on, so you can check you go over the whole list over a week, making a balanced week.

You can copy the list out again by hand next week, or print a new list from a computer template.


  • You can use much the same to-do list every day. Simply re-print or copy it, add a few things from your calendar, and you don’t have to stress about losing your list.
  • Instead of being continually ignored, this system lets you focus on your big goals, first, and actually make progress on them every day. (Short term, unimportant tasks can yell it out for your attention otherwise).
  • This method is actually fun. Each day you are ‘allowed’ to think creatively – and responsively, to current circumstances – on how you want to make progress on your goals.


  • The danger of ignoring small tasks is that these items – like paying speeding fines, booking health checks, or other things that are best dealt with early – can get ignored.


  • Try including broader areas of concern on your to-do list, such as “surprising my partner”, “taking preventative health seriously”, or “keeping on top of the detailed aspects of my finances”.
  • If you are overly spending your time on one (fun or easy) part of your list, make a rule that you will cover all areas over the week (each category done gets a tick) – and provide an assessment and reward at the end of the week.

Our Rating

A great system if you have a rock and roll, casual attitude, but need the long term direction provided by a list.

Your Thoughts

Have you tried this system? What are your experiences working with it? Any pros, cons, variations, or tips?

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