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To Do ListsI do love a list! It gives me a feeling of purpose, of taking control, and the comfort of knowing those things are written down where I can find them. I've written about to do lists before here.

You see, getting things written down gets them out of our pre frontal cortex where they take up too much of our conscious attention, distract us, and cause overwhelm, which, of course, contributes to procrastination. This frees up our conscious thinking, allowing us to more easily see possibilities, options and solutions.

So, have your lists, list lovers, and if you don't already indulge in list making, do take it up. Because I said so, or if you like, go research the science.

"But the list just sits there and won't attend to itself" you say. Sadly yes, but I still argue that it is better to have it. I know there is danger of the list itself being overwhelming, but used correctly, that won't happen. The To Do list can be your secret weapon, your faithful assistant, not your nagging guilt machine.

Here's my advice for using lists so that they don't just sit there but serve you as a tool for getting more done:


Firstly, I strongly recommend using something on your computer or an App on your tablet or smart phone. A notebook or paper is fine too, but when it's electronic:

- You can view it from any device, anywhere, any time
- You have it all in one place, not scraps of paper all over the place
- It's easy to categorise and schedule, which I'll talk about in a sec
- You can integrate it with other information, like your calendar, or notes you need for the task.

There are so many more Apps and tools available than I'm familiar with, but I'm managing with Go Tasks, which was free, and links with the task list on Google calendar. I'm also starting to tinker with Evernote, and Taskforce, which I hope will help me keep my email inbox under control by converting emails into categorised tasks.

For your lists to be effective, they need these three things:

1. Categories: The categories might be things like business, household, personal, social, shopping. Categories might also be separated according to location, like at your desk, out and about for errands etc. Categorising allows you to time box, which helps you balance how much time you spend on different categories of activities or areas of your life.

2. Time estimates: It's much easier to slot a To Do item or Task into your schedule if you have an idea how much time it might take. Take your best guess, from a few minutes to a couple of hours. Any more than a couple of hours and it might need breaking down into smaller items.

3. Priorities: Start by putting dates on things which are time sensitive. If it has to be done by a certain date, that decision is already made. Next, look for the things which are most important. Just as when you are assessing your values, you compare one item with another and decide which one matters more or takes first priority. Putting dates on all your items can be a bit scary, but if you can at least put dates on items for the next week or two ahead, you know you have some of the most important and urgent stuff covered. Remember, some things that are not time sensitive are still important, and worth allocating time to in the near future and ahead of other items.

Other stuff about To Do lists
- Beware the perfectionism monster. Lists are there to serve you, not the other way around! Your lists can be flawed. The idea is that all tasks are captured in a place where you can easily find them. For example, when you're in the hardware shop, you can get your notebook or smart phone out and look up what you wanted there and also the measurements. When you're working at your desk, you can complete your routine tasks and then look on your list for the next priority things to be done.

- You need regular planning time where you tinker with your lists. During this time, have a play with the time estimates and the priorities, and think about when you might have the opportunity to do the next few important items. I recommend a planning session each week for the week ahead. This planning session, by the way, doesn't have to be perfect!

- Keep in mind when prioritising and scheduling, that some items, whilst not time sensitive, are still really important! The way to approach prioritising is to ask yourself about each item, "what will that give me?". Keep your goals in mind, and notice which tasks will move you towards achieving those goals. Some of your tasks are for achieving goals, some are for maintaining standards. When you think of the purpose of each task, you can see where your priorities need to be.

- Some items on your list won't get attended to, and that's ok. Allow yourself to accept this, and let the list be a way of sorting through what seemed like a good idea at the time and what really works for you. Remember, the list serves you, not you serving the list. It's not a source of guilt, it's a source of information, simply a place where you store items for consideration. That's right, just because you thought of it and wrote it down, doesn't make it a rule. We do change our minds as new information comes up or as we've had a chance to consider the options.

If you're a bit techie and you know a great App or tool for managing To Do lists, please share in the comments for other readers.


#3 FK 2013-07-26 04:03
I use Things (for Mac) by

Works great between your Mac, iPhone and iPad and update tasks automatically in the cloud on all devices.
#2 Geez 2013-07-04 08:34
I like to put my list on the computer, because next to it is a box, so when you have completed the task, you put a check mark on it. Then it is really done! That's my way of getting things done. :-) Thank you.
#1 pat 2013-07-02 15:02
An excellent article. Now I know where I've been going wrong with all those post its. :sigh:


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