The Red Flag List

Red Flag ListSo, where was I? Right.The red flag list. Preamble at Reasonable Expectations and So, What’s Important?

It’s been about six months since I hit my limit with trying to cram too many things into not enough time. Time being the insurmountable factor.

So I started cleaning up my computer late last summer, hoping to stir up my thinking in the process. Since my computer has long since become another home within my home, I can’t just turn it off and forget that half my life lives in this box. And I can’t go another ten years without taking out the trash either.

I was bemused to realize that everything critical are things that would be on a list even if I had no computer. In this case, my computer is only functioning as an excessively upscale typewriter and storage facility for what would otherwise exist on paper, as it used to do.

I see two ways of looking at this irony:

1. Wow! Look at all the things I can do with a computer.
2. Wow! Look at how much simpler my life would be if I didn’t have a computer.

The Red Flag List

This is all the stuff I am supposed to get done in my life because, if I don’t, big trouble is coming. These are things I don’t necessarily want to do when faced with more enticing possibilities but I really have to.

Everyone’s got one of those lists. You can bury it for awhile but you can’t forget it. Bringing mine to light put the rest of my list in perspective. Suddenly things that were making me sweat are way down on the optional list.

To-do lists can be like junk food. If you eat white bread and white sugar all the time, you’re up in the middle of the night eating more of it because your body’s still trying to find some real nutrition.

If you’re just knocking things off a to-do list all day for something to do, at the end of the day you feel like you haven’t really gotten anything done. And tomorrow there’s still a whole ocean of the same waiting for you.

If, on the other hand, you could see the entire contents of the-rest-of-your-life-according-to-you on one long list and pick the most important each day, at bedtime you’d think, Wow, I really accomplished something today.

Just writing the list can be an illuminating experience. And to answer the anticipated question: No, I’m not a devotee of GTD. I haven’t even read the book. This is just me muddling along.


I write everything down. If some brilliant, or even idiot, idea pops into my mind I write it down. I wouldn’t ever want to limit the number of ideas my mind is allowed to generate. That part’s not even negotiable.

But then I put red flags on my have-to’s because, you know, I have to. My red flag list was surprisingly short the first time around. And the incoming items are filed where they belong or dealt with in the present.

Real life always comes first; my people and my appointments. Then comes the red flag list. And then, if there’s any time left, my pick of the rest of the brilliant or idiot ideas.

Not to confuse you but I changed the red flags to green because red was sending the wrong message to my brain. I reverted all text to default black and un-nested the Inboxes. Too much nesting confuses me. So do too many ‘go’ flags. But the idea is still the same.

  • Green=Committed, so Go
  • Yellow=Optional
  • Blue=Reference


If it’s in my house, the list is on my computer.

If it’s happening out of my house it’s on paper. A notebook is too complicated for me because of the multiple pages so it’s just a single piece of paper that I scribble on.

If I’m going out of town there’s another section of notes to cover that so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel when I’m packing. My mind’s gotten lazy that way.


I can’t open all the tab contents at the same time so this is just one of the 12.

Flagged List, ActionOutline

And there are the flags. The bright green catches my attention right away and gets me in the mood.

This is where my day begins. This and my calendar because I take my calendar seriously. The calendar items each include a short list of things I need to check up on or update regularly. Once again, it’s easier than trying to remember what I’m supposed to be remembering.

Calendar Items

Having now split my life into one focal area per day, my mind rests easier. It’s my comfort zone of no time. The great expanse of an entire day; eternity by today’s standards.

The first time around the wheel I found it really hard to stop my mind from racing off in other directions. By the second time that had reversed itself and it was hard to multitask. My mind can now comfortably fixate on its job for the day.

Brilliant & Idiot Ideas

So, say I hit a day when there are no green flags and I’m through my calendar and check list and it’s only Noon. Now what?

Well, whatever strikes my fancy. In most categories there’s an optional to-do list. Some of them are very long.

If there is no list, I resist the urge to move onto the next category because:

  • If I dig deep where I am it’s likely that other things will come to light.
  • I can enjoy more time to take care of things that show up out of the blue.
  • There’s the whole rest of the Universe not in my office.

The only exception I make to this is writing. I write when I feel like it.


If you’re wondering why I call it this it’s because alphabetically 0. forces it to sit at the top of My Documents. An underscore would work just as well.

My 0.Inbox is also split into 12 categories so anything incoming gets dropped into its own folder for later. It keeps me from being sidetracked away from my focus of the day.

I make the same split for my email and that’s a huge relief. Even if I woke up bouncing into my sneakers to greet the day, the Inbox was like a boulder dropped on my head and I needed to go back to bed for a rest. No more.

If you thrive on multitasking you might hate this. But if you want to slow down and focus this might be it. It’s working for me.

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