The final post in our series on organizing is an ode to one of my very favorite things: lists!
I usually carry a small notebook and a pen. I’ve started creating a list for each week. As I complete a task, it gets crossed off the list. Crossing things off a list is very satisfying. And when I think of something I need to do, I can just add it to the list to handle later. I don’t need to interrupt my flow or fear forgetting an important task. Lists keep me focused and prioritized. They are flexible enough to let me adapt to changing situations. In addition to my weekly lists, I have longer range lists like new year’s resolutions, projects, and gift lists.
I don’t think of my list as a to-do list, but as a list of things I plan to accomplish. Approaching the list as a positive opportunity instead of a burden makes a big difference. A list helps me to identify the projects I can complete in the amount of time I have available. That way, I don’t lose time trying to figure out what to do — meaning more time for actually doing things.
I don’t act as though my lists are written in stone. If I need to delay something, I do. If I have an opportunity to spend time with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, I do. But having the list helps me to keep track of the things I need to reschedule.
So, how do you start making lists? I recommend starting with a daily or weekly task list. You can keep a small notepad in your purse, briefcase, or pocket. Most cell phones have a memo app. You can use a small digital recorder and make an audio list. There are two keys to whatever list format you choose: it needs to be easy to use and you need to be able to find it when you need it.
Set a time each day or week to create your list. I usually write my weekly list on Sunday afternoon, at the same time I do my dress and meal plans for the week. At work, I will often use the last few minutes of the work day to make a list of tasks for the next day. When I get to the office, I can get right to work.
To make your list, start by writing down everything you want to accomplish in the day/week. It doesn’t all have to be work. Maybe you want to meet your best friend for coffee or go to the library to get your favorite author’s newest book. Put it on the list.
Once you’ve written the list, there are two additional steps you might want to take. First, decide if the list is reasonable. No matter how organized you are, you cannot complete 30 hours of work in a 24 hour day! If it’s not possible to finish everything on the list, you’ll just frustrate yourself. So cross some things off or move them to another day or week. The more you get accustomed to making lists, the better a sense you will have as to what you can accomplish without exhausting yourself. Second, you might want to prioritize the items on your list. (Color-coding works great for doing this.) That way, you won’t spend tons of time reorganizing your sock drawer while forgetting to pay your mortgage. That will also tell you the things you can let slide if you need to step back.
The purpose of lists is to keep the things you want or need to do in the front of your memory, to help you keep your focus. Our lives are very full and the background noise can crowd out everything else. It takes effort to stay focused on the things that really matter to you. Lists are a handy way to do that.