Friday, February 15, 2013

Keeping a Functional To-Do List, pt. 1

I’ve always kept to-do lists, but not particularly good ones. I would scratch down a few ideas on various, unorganized bits of paper, usually ending up with leftover tasks that never got finished. Meanwhile I often had a never-ending list running through my head ~ “Ok, I really need to do this first, then that. Don’t forget to call mom this afternoon. We need eggs. Tomorrow I *have* to remember to...”, and so on. Not helpful at night when you are trying to fall asleep!

Years ago I saw a recommendation for the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity”, and wrote down the title somewhere. Luckily I saw it on a friend’s bookshelf shortly afterward and promptly borrowed it. The book focuses on creating organized to-do lists, and while I couldn’t relate to some of the business oriented topics (setting up a list of contacts you need to call, for example), I was able to pull a lot of good ideas from it. Here are some of the main things I learned ~

Keeping a Functional To-Do List

1) Write Down (almost) Everything

When you get that list out of your head and on paper, it can really clear your mind and reduce stress. Once it is on the list, you don’t need to worry about it anymore, and you don’t have to keep reminding yourself. You may have to use the list for a while before you fully start to trust it, but once you have a good system going I think you'll notice a difference!

I write down almost everything that I need to do, nearly to the point where it is embarrassing, but it has helped so much. While I don’t put every daily task on the list (like brushing my teeth), if it’s something I have trouble remembering it goes on there. For instance, while doing laundry I used to have a lot of trouble remembering to get the clothes out of the washer & into the dryer, or out of the dryer & put away. I’ve learned that is something I have to put on my list if I actually want it to get done.

2) Break Down Large Tasks

Big projects can be daunting. If you write down something like “Plan birthday party” or “Re-organize front closet” on your to-do list, chances are that is going to sit ignored on the list for a long time. Instead, think of the first step that you need to do to start the project and write that down. Maybe you need to call your mom to get someone’s phone number, pick a color scheme, or buy a set of invitations. That sounds a lot more manageable than trying to do the whole thing at once! And usually the hardest part is just getting started.

 Once you complete that first step, add the next one to your list. Keep a separate list of big “Projects” that you refer back to about once a week so that nothing is forgotten, but try to keep them off your normal to-do list.

3) Find What Works for You (and change as needed)

This is my own addition, and maybe a bit obvious, but worth mentioning. Perhaps one master list works the best for you, or maybe you need to divide it up into different categories (work, home, hobby, etc.). Can you keep up with a list better online, or do you prefer to write it down in an agenda? Organize it the way that makes the most sense to you now, but don’t be afraid to switch things up later on as you realize what actually works and what doesn’t. I don’t follow all of the recommendations from the book, and my current list definitely looks a lot different from when I started!

Next week I will finish up by talking more about how I actually organize my list(s) and what type of tasks I put on there, so check back on Friday!

EDIT: You can find part 2 here

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