This is the question that prompted writing our FAQ page, and it is a good example of why doing something the easy way doesn’t always help.
One of the biggest failures I’ve found with just about every other system that I’m aware of is the amount of information and cruft that accumulates with time. In the beginning motivation is good, you’re enthusiastic and ready to get organised. The list (or lists) you build are well thought out, detailed, and nice and neat and tidy.
And then reality intervenes. No plan survives contact with the enemy, and it is just a true at life scale as it is at war scale.
Now where do you go? All the careful effort and planning to prepare for the future is out of sync, your lists are useless and it is oh so much effort to start again. So some stuff that isn’t relevant any more gets left behind and ignored, the new important gets added over the top, and you have a mess. Yuk.
Writing stuff out, and more importantly re-writing, shorts that loop before it gets out of hand. If reviews are being done regularly and thoroughly, at each review then things that aren’t done will need be moved down your lists to remain current. That is a lot of writing, but it accomplishes two functions:
Removing the cruft. If something is hanging around that isn’t getting done, why is it on the list? Either move it to a less active list because it obviously isn’t important, or it really doesn’t matter and can be removed altogether. By the second (or third, but definitely by the fourth) time you’ve written out a task there will be a most excellent motivation to either complete the task, or discard it.
Keeping things fresh. The problem with cruft often isn’t that it’s cruft per-se; but that it is getting stale, old and out of date. The task may be important enough to keep, but something in its location is wrong. Maybe the timing isn’t right, or it’s blocked by something or whatever. The bit that matters is that the task is stuck. Again, re-writing encourages a thorough evaluation of the tasks position in the list. Either it really is important, and it is worth re-writing. Or it’s not and it gets moved or discarded.
Beware of trying to simplify your reviews, quickly skimming your lists because you can’t be bothered doing a re-write. A few minutes writing will save your from future headaches and stress.
Interestingly how to simulate the re-writing aspect is one of the most difficult parts of converting pivot lists to an on-line method. A computer is very good at sorting automatically, and can also keep long lists with ease.
Thus there is a distinct lack of motivation for a user to remove cruft, and everything quickly turns to muck. We’re still experimenting on how to best to solve that one, without pissing everyone off. Got any ideas?