My To-Do List System
Because I have such a love of planning and organizing, I don't have just one to-do list, but an entire system of to-do lists. While I used to keep just one to-do list, as my list grew and I started working more with goals, I needed to refine my methods. Although I feel fairly happy with how I use to-do lists today, my system is still definitely a work in progress. That said, here are the different levels of to-do lists I use:
- Giant To-Do List of Doom - A multi-page list of every single thing I want and need to do, from the small to the large. I only compile this once a year, because it's really messy and overwhelming and looking at it more often than that would just stress me out. But I use it because seeing everything in one place helps me to get a clearer idea of where my goals, passions, and areas of interest are. (I talk a bit more about this in my earlier post.)
- Categorized, ordered lists - From my Giant To-Do List of Doom, I group everything into several categories. The categories themselves are whatever seem like the best fit for me; last year, I had eight different categories, this year, I had only six. (That's last year's Blogging list that you see above.) I also take this time to begin to break down some of the larger items on the giant list into smaller, more manageable tasks. Finally, I order each categorized list according to priority, which allows me to easily see what needs to be done next. These lists live in my planner and I add to them throughout the year and periodically rewrite them, removing items that I have completed and revising the order of the remaining items.
- Month list - This is a new list that I've just started using in the last month. It addresses the problem I had that even with my categorized, ordered lists, I still had difficulty deciding what particular tasks I should be working on in any one week or day. (It's difficult because I have many different projects on the go at once, and very few of the things I do have hard deadlines.) My month list consists of the top items from my categorized lists, as well as other tasks that aren't on those lists (things like cleaning, writing individual blog posts, etc.). I break everything down into small sub-tasks, and order it all according to when I'd like to get it done by and how important it is. This really helps me to focus on doing what is most important first, and helps to reduce procrastination.
With all of these lists in place, it's easy for me to select my Big Rocks of the week and my Most Important Tasks (MITs) of the day - I simply choose the top tasks from my Month List, and I can feel confident that these really are the most important tasks for me to be working on in that day or week. Although the system may sound complicated when I write it all out, it really is simple once I have it in place. I may need to spend a bit of extra time planning at the end of the month, but I actually end up saving time because I spend a lot less time planning any individual day or week. None of the lists are set in stone, and I can and do change them as circumstances in my life change.
Challenges of To-Do Lists
My main challenges with to-do lists are overestimating the amount of things that I'll be able to get done in given time and underestimating the amount of time that I need to accomplish any one task. I guess this is more a challenge in my life generally and not really with to-do lists in particular, but it results in a list full of items that I feel behind on. I hate feeling behind, but if I could learn to better assess how long I'll need to accomplish different tasks, then I could avoid the problem arising in the first place. If you have any tips based on how you've dealt with these issues in your own life, I would really appreciate them!
The other challenge that I used to have with to-do lists was simply feeling overwhelmed by them. I've dealt with that by breaking my list down into categories (which replaces one large scary list with several smaller, less scary lists) and by ordering the items in each list according to priority. When my to-do list is in order, I don't need to worry about all of the items on it, I just need to worry about the one or two items at the top of the list, and I can trust that those tasks are the ones that are most the important. It sounds simple, but it really makes things a lot easier!
Do you use to-do lists? Do you keep just a basic list, or do you use any methods similar to those I've discussed here? What are the joys and challenges of to-do lists in your life?