Ask the Organizer: What To-Do, What To-Do?

What’s the best way to manage your to-do lists? I’ve got at least 7 different lists floating around – sometimes the to-do item appears on all 7, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. I had good intentions, but it’s not working.

I absolutely give you credit for the list-making. Getting those to-do items out of your head and onto paper is a great way to feel in control of a project, a shopping trip, a life… Trouble is, with 7 lists out there, you now have to check 7 different places to make sure you covered everything. I strongly believe in having all your to-dos consolidated in one place – whether it’s set up:

  • Digitally – there are some great Apps out there for this purpose (like Remember The Milk), but a running Word doc could also work
  • In a notebook – perhaps with dividers/sections for the areas of your life that require to-do lists, or
  • On the wall – products like IdeaPaint makes it easy to create a whiteboard on just about any surface, and you can create your own sections using electrical tape

The trick is to find a to-do list type that works for  you. Visually, I love the look of a sectioned whiteboard – with one glance I can see everything that’s going on, broken down by category. Trouble is, I also love the physical act of crossing something off my list. Erasing from a whiteboard simply doesn’t give me the same satisfaction. Plus, when an item is erased, it’s gone forever – but when it’s crossed off, you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished. So for me, the answer is a whiteboard/notebook hybrid. Here’s a look at the way I handle my own Chaos Theory to-do list (those blackout shapes are there to protect client identities and other sensitive information):

The Big To-Do

I wanted the look of a whiteboard on paper – but it needed to be able to handle a lot of information. The answer was an 11″x14″ sketchbook that I divide using a ruler and a sharpie. I assign categories to each section (General Chaos Theory, Client Projects, Business Development, NAPO, Blog Brainstorm, and On My Mind), and when I think of something I have to do, I write it into the proper section. New project arises? Adding a section is as simple as drawing a blue line.

So that’s the master list. A great source of information, but overwhelming if I wanted to use it for the day-to-day. That’s where my ONE sticky note comes in:

Friday's to-do list

Each evening, I plan for tomorrow. Using a combination of deadlines and my general whim, I peruse the larger list and decide what I will get done the next day.  That gets listed on the sticky, stuck to the master notebook, and thrown out at the end of each day. Then I make my master list cross-outs for the day (oh the pleasure!), and plan for tomorrow. Something I didn’t get to today? That’s OK, it can move to tomorrow’s sticky. Find myself with extra time? I can peruse the master for a task to fill the hour.

Like the way I set this up? Try it on your own, using the to-do categories of your life. If this isn’t the solution for you, there are plenty of methods out there. If you need help figuring out what’s right for you, don’t hesitate to email!

Happy listing!

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Got an organizing question of your own? Email and I’ll answer it in an upcoming Ask the Organizer Friday!

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