Closed lists vs. open lists

‘It’s all about time management. You can actually do a lot of things if you work out your schedule.’  Amanda Izatt

Creating legacy and organising your tasks

Creating legacy is much easier once you have good systems in place to take care of your tasks. In today’s blog post, I want to talk about the distinction between using closed lists vs. open lists to keep track of tasks you need to take care of. A closed list is one way of applying limits to our work in order to increase our efficiency. It is much easier to work off a closed list than an open list.

The problem with open lists

Most people use very few closed lists to control their work. Instead they rely on open lists. You are probably already familiar with the most frequently used type of open list – the to-do list. What makes the to-do list into an open list is that anything can be added to it. There is no line drawn at the bottom.

The open list is one of the worst systems to rely on if you are trying to get organised, as it is virtually impossible to get through your work if you have a constant stream of new stuff coming in. What usually happens is that you cherry-pick whatever happens to be making the most noise at the time and leave the rest ‘for later’. The result is inevitably that the unactioned items tend to build up into a backlog.

Working with closed lists

You are probably also familiar with one frequently used type of closed list – the checklist. For example, you probably already know that in order to carry out a new task it’s often a good idea to break the task down into smaller tasks and make a checklist.

 A good example of closed list versus open list is what happens when you come back from holiday and find you have a computer full of hundreds of emails that have come in while you have been away.

If you deal with these in an open list fashion, you deal with the ones that seem particularly urgent and leave the rest ‘for later’. New emails will start to come in and the result is you never quite catch up. Instead, you should deal with the emails in a closed list fashion. Download all the emails that have come in, go offline and clear the lot in one batch. Then you are free to deal with the new stuff.

In what order should you do closed list items in?

As long as you are going to finish the items of closed list, it doesn’t matter which order to do them in. If you draw a line at the bottom of your closed list and add new items below the line so they get cleared last, then the original list is still a closed list.

What about you?

What are your experiences with closed lists vs. open lists? How do you keep track of the tasks you need to do on any given day? I’d love to read about your ideas in the comments section.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at