My adamant approach to all things we do – whether organizing, managing time, cleaning, or working on our goals – is to find our own, individual way. There is no one right way to do anything. Take what works from each approach and combine it into something that works for you, even using any of your own unique ideas no one’s ever mentioned. And no matter how good or logical something sounds – follow your own needs. Additionally change or adapt it when it makes sense. When it comes to to-do lists, it can be completely personalized, where only you matter.
Recently I talked about my to-do program on my iPad – Appigo’s Todo. Yet, as much as I use it and wouldn’t give it up, it’s only part of how I handle my to-dos. I do rely on it and is the place where I try to capture all the tasks I need to do – eventually. This is often called a “brain dump” where you get all your tasks – regardless of priority, relevance, timeline, limitations, and etcetera – out of your head. It’s not important how you capture them outside your head as long as they’re saved somewhere besides your brain. This is one of the important aspects my technology to-do list serves for me.
This complete collection of all your to-dos can be utterly overwhelming. I’ll confess that quite often looking at my whole to-do list can paralyze me. It’s not that I don’t recognize what needs to be done or that many items are for the future – it’s just that there’s so many – ugh. A pro for a digital collection of your tasks is that it stays neat and never requires you to rewrite it since you can move, rearrange, and modify any and all tasks easily. I’m pretty confident that I am saving significant time simply by not rewriting and reorganizing my lists!
For exactly this reason as well as some other reasons, I sit down once a week with this master to-do list, my calendar, and my ARC notebook. I review most of the tasks on my list considering the time and energy I’ll likely have to dedicate to working on these items. Then I date the page in my ARC notebook, “June 3-9, 2013” and proceed to list typically 7-14 tasks, the goals of what I want to accomplish during that week. The process of writing them down serves me in a couple of way – it forces me to be mindful of how many tasks I’ve set out to do since I find that just a digital list can too easily grow unrealistically. Also, writing them down seems to help my memory of them without the list in front of me – there’s research that supports the process of writing connects our brains with it more than just reading it.
A couple of notes:
– generally I recommend not setting more than 3 goals/tasks per day as a common struggle is to overestimate how much we can do which can then lead us to feeling unsuccessful and more overwhelmed though of course varies according to your own life
– some people find it helpful to add their tasks directly into their calendar which is great if it works (my inner child rebels against that vehemently! lol)
Even with this process, it doesn’t mean that I don’t look at my master to-do list during the week. First, my master list has regular daily or weekly tasks that aren’t included on my weekly handwritten to-dos. Second, as much as we might try to plan our weeks (or days) things can arise that require we adapt or change our focus.
This is when I find the digital to-do list additionally helpful. Most (maybe all?) digital to-do programs come with multiple features for organizing your to-dos. How you set those up and how you use them is quite personal. I’ve designated areas or “roles” of my life (which I talked some about in, Tasks – Big Picture View): Routines (this is new for me), Business, Household, Health, Personal, Volunteering. Ideally I spend some time each week in each of these areas and if I need to shift my goals for the week, I can consider if I want to focus on a particular area and use the program to only look at those tasks. I have some tasks set with an alarm, which helps make sure they’re dealt with.
Another way the digital to-do list helps me is that I set up contexts (only 1 per task) and tags (no limit per task), both of which I can sort with and see only those tasks that relate to what I’ve specified. There are times when I put off certain types of tasks and then find myself motivated to tackle them. Let me give you an example – what I consider “technical” phone calls are disturbingly problematic, those phone calls where
- there’s a strong probability that it will either be phone tag and I’d ideally be around to limit the phone tag or
- require being on hold indefinitely
Chances are that only those types of phone calls are even on my master to-do list and by setting the context as “@Phone calls” I can pull all them up regardless of what category they fit into and burn through them when I have the time and feel up to it. Similarly one way I use tags is for identifying types of tasks that match my current capabilities – my physical and mental state like I talked about in Your Tasks have Needs.
I’ve combined my to-do list into using both technology and more traditional methods. Some might find my way to be slightly redundant. Yet it’s my way, not anyone else’s – it’s been changed and modified over the years according to what does and doesn’t work as well as working through how to make it more successful. I doubt I will ever be done tweaking it – like the written list that sometimes has a specific day written by the tasks and sometimes time estimates while most of the time it’s just the task. It’s most important that you find ways that work for you – a system for handling your tasks that supports you in making progress through them – whatever that ends up looking like for you.