To-Do Lists - Part 1: What Makes A Good One?

Whether you're managing a big project at work, managing a busy household, or studying and have multiple assignments to keep on top of. We're all busy, with information and demands coming at us constantly. It's impossible to effectively manage all this stuff in your head, and whether you're a paper person or a gadget person, it pays to be a list person.

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Some people only need a single to-do list but what if it gets too long? Or you write it on scraps of paper and keep losing them? Or you don't have it with you when you need it? There are a few aspects of this subject that are worth looking at, so today we'll just look at how to get the most of out your lists, and then in the coming weeks we'll look at managing paper to-do's and using apps to help.

Easy Access

What do you do when you get a call while you're out, your friend wants you to bring dessert to dinner on Saturday? You also have to remember what groceries to get for dinner tonight and to pay those bills that are overdue. With all that stuff in your head, it's so easy for them to become jumbled or start disappearing. Having an app on your phone or a pocket sized notebook that you can quickly write things in will help you get the details down right so you can get on with what you were doing. Because if you're on your way home and want to stop at the shops, having your shopping list stuck to the fridge isn't going to be much help. 

How many lists?

Everyone is different, with different responsibilities and priorities. For alot of people, all you need is a shopping list, an at-work to-do list and one for at home. You'll want to keep to the minimum number of lists that will work for you, too many just adds complication. Some people need to break it down further, maybe by project or priority. Another way of breaking it down is to have a "master" to do list that has absolutely everything you can think of, and then a more focused "daily" to do list where you can pull the most important things out and not be distracted by the others. Try to keep in mind what you can realistically get done when you're making this list.

Check it Often

It's not much good taking note of things in a to-do list if you never look at it again. As this is the list of things you know you want to get done, you should check every morning, yes even before you check email. It's a habit that might take a little while to stick to, but to start with you could set a reminder or alarm on your phone.

Working Together

Some to-dos need to happen on or before a certain date, and this is where you need to team your to-do list with a calendar or diary. Leave those appointments off your to-do list and just put them on the relevant date. This will help you plan ahead as well, so when someone asks if you wan to catch up for lunch on Saturday you can look at your calendar and see that you need to have a dessert ready for that dinner party. Then you can decide whether to say no to lunch so you can cook or just buy a pre-made dessert and have that lunch!

As well as date related to-dos, sometimes you will have information coming at you that you don't necessarily need to do anything with, but you want to keep it somewhere so you can reference it later if you need to. Things like logins and passwords, a task that someone else will do, a recipe that you want to try one day, these all need to be kept in some sort of "filing" system. It doesn't have to be a big filing cabinet, just some system that works for you where you can easily put things away and find them again. This will get rid of that big pile of paperwork that you don't want to get rid of but don't know what to do with, give it a proper home. I'll talk more about ways of doing this in the next few posts.

These are some things to think about when deciding how to keep track of your to-do list. In the coming weeks I'll talk more specifically about using smartphone apps or sticking to paper, as well as how to store that reference stuff that doesn't need anything done about it.