Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Art of the To-Do List

You may remember in my New Year's post I talked about setting goals as opposed to resolutions for the year, and that my primary focus was to work on my time management issues (ahem) challenges. I will be doing a series of posts throughout the year, which will include techniques I am trying and changes I am making on this organizational journey, which will be dubbed "Integrated Time Management" or ITM (you may have heard of "Integrated Pest Management" or IPM--a method used to solve pest problems while still being as forgiving as possible to people and their environment? I'd like to think of this as very similar methodology.)

The first technique, which is already in my organizational toolbox but could use some refining, is the to-do list. Let me geek out for a minute and tell you that I love lists!! When I cross items off my to-do list, I am seriously elated. They create a sense of calm and order in my day...as long as I stick to them. You, too, can find sense and order in your day with the right to-do list.

Here are some tips to make your to-do list work for you:
  • Write it all down. Start by putting everything down that you need to do! Keeping a "mental" to-do list just adds more clutter to your mind and your day, and will actually decrease your chances of getting anything done. So, spill it!
  • Use a favorite format. We all have a way of managing organization that we like best. Personally, I like making my lists the old-fashioned way with pencil and (recycled whenever possible) paper. You may prefer to use your smart phone, tablet or computer. As long as the format is something you'll be able to refer to often and feel accountable to. There are lots of organization apps out there with to-do list functionality (Evernote is my personal favorite). Even the Notepad function on your device will work fine. 
  • Categorize if necessary. For instance, I make two lists: one for home projects, one for work projects.
  • Be specific. Try to be as clear as possible about what needs to be done (i.e. "laundry" can be broken into a sub-list of "whites," "darks," etc.). If there is a deadline or due date for the task, put that down as well. All the better to keep you on target for getting these things done. This is also useful if you plan on delegating any tasks on your list (which is highly recommended if you can get away with it!).
  • Rank your to-do items. This is really essential for me to stay on track. If I follow the order of importance, I won't get caught up in doing the less-important things, which can happen because they may be easier, less intimidating, etc. And it's very helpful when you have items with deadlines.
My current to-do list

The last and very crucial piece to remember when making your list involves one of my absolute favorite acronyms that I learned from a favorite J-School professor: Keep ISimple Stupid (KISS). This is a great reminder for many things in life, especially if you're like me and tend to over-complicate life sometimes. Its relevance is not lost on the to-do list. Your intention is to get things done. Don't make it more complicated than it has to be.

I hope we are on the path towards to-do list success! How do you like to organize your to-do list? Does anyone have a favorite app or service they like to use for their to-do lists?