Monday, March 29, 2010

Lists, lists, everywhere!

I make lists. Lots of lists.

The main reason for this is, I have a terrible memory so if something doesn't get written down on paper, it's gone. Poof.

I'm always fascinated by how other people deal with their to-do lists, and I love to learn new ways of managing tasks.

TravisTheTrout recently had an excellent blog post about managing to-dos by writing them into a notebook and reviewing them each day during the train commute. I certainly agree that to-do lists are only useful if you look at them often and regularly. And, I also agree that categorized lists help to streamline your time.

Charlie Gilkey has a great article on To Do lists, and things that might be holding you back from completing your listed items. His example is technology that's an impediment.

Here's my own personal example: I have an old desktop computer that I no longer use, that has lots of photos on the hard drive. I need to transfer those over to my external hard drive. For months (!) I've had on my weekly to-do list, "old computer photos to ext hd." But what's wrong with this? Why is it that I haven't done it yet after looking at this for months? Because I can't just do it in one step. This really should say:

1) Set up old desktop computer

2) Plug in and turn on

3) Find external hard drive

4) Find photo files on desktop

5) Transfer photos to external hard drive

Suddenly I realize that instead of taking 15 minutes, this will take half an afternoon. No wonder I've been procrastinating!

All of my lists are paper-based, so I love to read about how other people use paper lists. Charlie has a great article about how he uses his multiple notebooks which keep track of his lists and ideas by topic.

Recently I read Lifehack's article on Task Lists which has some good ideas. This article also has lots of great comments from readers. I'm always surprised at how many people use their computer for to-dos. I guess if you spend most of your time there that would make sense, but for me I need my lists on paper that can walk around with me.

Quote from Lifehack:

"It’s crucial to have your list available under any circumstance. For one thing, you never know when you might have a few minutes to work on a couple of tasks; if you don’t have your list, you might waste those opportunities. Second, you never know when you might have to add something to the list."

Absolutely and completely yes.

In this article Lifehack also talks about contexts, which he doesn't use. I don't do GTD but I do make to-do lists by context such as @computer, @phone because I'm not always near them, so whenever I sit down at my computer I like to have a consolidated list of things I need to do there, and work through it.

Recently I was talking to my sister about how she manages lists. She uses a Quo Vadis Trinote, and uses the contextual list boxes on the weekly spread for things to do or bills to pay that week. But for bigger or longer-range lists she uses a plain sketchbook. She uses it as a brain dump to get down on paper all those swirling ideas before they escape her. She captures her ideas chronologically on the pages. As much as I like this idea, I don't know if it would work for me to have everything in one notebook. Unless I paged through it daily, I think things would get lost.

Getting Sh-t Done has the best-ever title. The idea is a very simplified version of Getting Things Done, but without so much structure. The four basic steps are: 1) Create a Master List, 2) From that, decide what you can do today and create your Daily List, 3) Work through it, 4) Transfer whatever doesn't get done to tomorrow's list. This system seems to be very popular with people who are on technology backlash.

I definitely have moments of List Breakdown. Sometimes I look at my To Do list and think, "I really don't want to do any of this sh-t." Or there are times (like currently) when I'm overwhelmed with lists in too many places. I have lists everywhere, in various Filofaxes, notebooks and planners. I would probably be much better off with all of my lists in one place, somehow.

How do you manage lists? Daily vs long-term to-do's, project plans, future plans, do you keep track of them all? And most importantly, how do you make them actionable?


  1. Hey, thanks for the mention of GSD! The other thing I've found is that paper is essential. If I do the exact same things using TextEdit or Notepad or a more complex app, I don't get the same success rate or satisfaction. I think it has something to do with forcing oneself to sit down and write out the list, which is a reflective activity.

  2. Hi Bill, thanks for commenting! I completely agree, there is something about the process of writing that helps me remember, and also gets me thinking about how to turn it into action. Plus, there's nothing like seeing completed tasks checked off the list!

  3. I have tons of lists in my two Filos (though this does not include the lists that live randomly in other places). You can read about it in my latest post since it was too long to leave as a comment:

    Also, just to address the computer lists, I do keep my work to-do list in my work email account - when at work, I'm always at the computer (and move from computer to computer sometimes) so it's easy to do it this way. However, if Filofax comes out with a Slimline A5, I may just look into that for work...