Hi, my name is Claire, and I'm a list maker. Here's a list of some of my confessions about being a list maker:
Are there more list makers out there? Considering the massive amount of options available for both digital and analog list making tools, I don't think I'm alone! Several months ago I did a poll on Facebook about digital vs. paper tools, and I was surprised by how many people preferred paper! There are many advantages to paper: it's accessible and affordable, and there's research that writing things down actually helps us process and remember written material better than digital. In a study done by researchers at Princeton University and UCLA Los Angeles, it was discovered that students who took handwritten notes remembered facts and comprehended subject matter better than students who typed their notes. Now, making a to-do list isn't the same as listening to a lecture, but when you write something down, you do process it differently. On the flip side, there are many advantages to digital tools including the ability to edit and reorder tasks without having to start from scratch. Many digital tools also allow you to categorize tasks, assign due dates, set reminders, and even share or delegate tasks. So, what's the best answer? I think it's a little bit of both! I like to start and finish with paper with a digital solution sandwiched in between. Here's my current process:
A brain dump is a great way to keep your mind clear and your thoughts organized. Just write everything in your head down on a piece of paper without thinking about order or dependencies or prerequisites - you can connect and organize your thoughts later. One option for a brain dump that I tried just this week is putting each idea on a sticky note. When your brain is emptied, you can then organize your sticky notes on your wall into categories or chronological order. This idea is explained by blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur, Pat Flynn, as it relates to writing a book, but it can easily be used for list making or project planning. Don't do a brain dump once and think you're done - this needs to be done regularly. I like to do it every Sunday so I can start the week with a clear mind.
Digitize (or at least categorize)
Now that I have everything I know I need to do or remember either written down or stuck to the wall, I add it to my digital system. If it's an actual to-do item, I add it to the task management program I use, Nozbe. (If you missed it, check out the recent post where I interviewed the founder and CEO of Nozbe!) The key is to categorize the tasks in a way that make sense to you. It could be by project, by due date, by the tool you need to do the task, etc. Though I think it's easier to do this in a digital system, you could do it on paper if you don't mind rewriting your list often. Tasks that have defined time frames, like an appointment, should go on a calendar. Again, my preference is digital so I can access it on the go, but you could go old school and use a paper calendar if you prefer. If it's something that I just need for reference later, I either file it in physical files or add it to a digital system like Evernote. A great example of this is when I wrote down in a brain dump that I needed new makeup but I couldn't remember the brand or shade I liked. I added "buy makeup" to my digital to-do list, but I also added a picture of the front and back of each type of makeup I use to a note in Evernote, so when I am at the store, I can pull up my app and be sure to get exactly what I know I like! Regardless if you go digital or stay analog, it is necessary to maintain your system with regular reviews so you can trust your process includes everything you need to remember and nothing you don't!
Daily Written List
Finally, we come full circle to pen and paper! Each day, I physically make a list of the items from my digital tools that I need to do that day. You might think, "why not skip the whole digital middle section?" If I don't go through that process, I end up with one giant list that includes tasks from all sorts of different projects and with various due dates. My digital system makes it easy for me to filter through my tasks so I can choose appropriate ones for the day.
There are three keys to making a daily written list:
Making your list the night before gets things out of your head so you can sleep better, which will help you be more productive the next day. Making your list time-bound helps you to stay on track throughout the day. There are certain markers in your day that HAVE to happen at a certain time or before or after another task. Put those in, and then you know how much time you have to work on your other to-do list items. Making it realistic is probably the most important part! Overestimate how long it takes to do things so you can actually accomplish your daily goals. Limit the number of big tasks to around three. Nobody ever got mad at themselves for getting everything on their list done!
I try to make my daily list right before I go to bed - sometimes in bed with my nightlight. I look at my digital calendar first and then my digital task manager. I fill in everything I'm going to need to do the next day from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I only put times next to the things that are on the calendar or relate to a goal I have about how long I'll spend on a certain task, and I also specify what time I'll get up or go to bed. Throughout the day, I reference my list to keep myself on track. If I can't get something completed, I just highlight it; if something gets cancelled, I draw a wavy line through it. When I make my list for the next day, I look back at my highlighted items to make sure they don't get forgotten. I also make sure to continue to add and mark off items in my digital tools on a daily basis.
For all you fellow list makers out there, I'd love to hear your comments about your system and any tips or tricks you have for keeping everything straight! Happy list making!
Eck, Allison. “For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 3 June 2014, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/taking-notes-by-hand-could-improve-memory-wt/.
SmartPassiveIncome. “How to Write a Book - The Secret to a Super Fast First Draft.”YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWoYHAwzcpY.
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A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!