Scrum! Reimagining the To-Do List

For years I would spend the first part of every day with a new page of my notebook open in front of me, transcribing old tasks leftover from the day before and putting in new ‘to-do’ bullet points. My work notebooks were filled with redundant pages full of crossed out task lists, heavily notated with urgency and due dates and what project this is for anyways? It’s a really inefficient way to work, but I know this will probably sound familiar to many of you! Since then I have tried platforms on my web browser, apps on my phone, special notebooks with built in sections and check boxes… you name it, and I have tried to make it work.

In the style of Thomas Edison I didn’t fail, I just found 10,000 ways to make ineffective to-do lists. Then a light went off, inspired by software developers and sticky notes and a group of nerds meeting at a Utah ski resort in 2001. My scrum inspired to-do list came to life and I’m excited to share with with everyone today.

Carolyn’s task list from the end of 2020.

Agile Work & Scrum Boards

As an interior designer I have heard the word agile for years. As our places of work become more collaborative and more flexible we hear about how the office furniture and design should be agile…in this case “agile” is traditionally defined: we want our spaces to be able to move quickly and easily to adapt to new teams, and new challenges.

When I worked as a dealership designer our manufacturing partner, Steelcase, introduced me to a new definition of agile through the ambitious re-design of their IT department. This type of agile comes from software developers and is in reference to a specific way of working as a team. It started with group of tech executives who met in Utah in 2001 to brainstorm a new methodology to use while developing software. The result of this meeting was the Agile Manifesto and a new way of working that has stood the test of time.


“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

In essence, an agile work process empowers small teams to work quickly through small cycles of production and review, delivering faster results through sessions of intense focus and collaboration. Although this was developed first for tech and IT it is easily applied to other sectors.

Steelcase has released several very interesting articles about the inspiration and execution of the IT department redesign, which was informed by agile work. I won’t get into it here but if you’re a process & programming dork like me I would highly recommend taking a deep dive into the following articles!

As small teams work and iterate they also need a vertical display to track progress, test ideas, and all work towards common goals. That vertical display is called a scrum board. Here are a couple of examples:


A typical agile work board might have these sections: Backlog, Sprint (short focus work sessions), To-Do, Doing, and Backlog. Specific tasks are written on sticky notes and are moved through the process as work is completed. This way the whole team can work towards goals together by all tackling smaller tasks, and everyone knows where every part of the project stands.

Inspiring right?

I love this idea of central visual representation and agile work for architectural and design teams especially. I can easily imagine that each project team could have a board, and the team of designers and architects can pick up redlines, and details, and sections and elevations to draft, and you can always check in to the board to see what people are actively tackling. However, in my current role our teams are much smaller, often with just one designer and one account manager, so a shared board doesn’t make sense.

I was intrigued, and I wanted to use this inspiration for something and so I took the idea for my own to-do lists.

How to create the scrum to-do list:

I start with a manila folder and a stack of small post-it notes.

My current workload consists of 10-15 projects, so instead of having multiple folders I just have one folder with smaller post-its within to identify which tasks belong to which projects. If I have a task with extra urgency I’ll highlight the edge so that I have that extra visual cue. I also often have tasks that I finish, but still need to be approved by the account manager, so I created an “in progress” section so that I can remember with whom I need to follow up.

Here is what my list looks like today:

I love this system because as I complete tasks I can just remove them from the folder completely, keeping it clean and easy to read over time. It’s slim enough that I can simply close it into my laptop at the end of the day. It’s really customizable. It’s cheap and simple to create. It’s efficient. With the simple manila fondler as your guide the possibilities are endless!

So, try it out. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

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