Does a To-Do List Have to be a List?

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Most of us are way too busy to remember all that we need and want to get done. That means it’s important to use a tool of some kind to keep track of it all. The most common one is a to-do list.

What if you hate lists? What if the prospect of making a list fills you with terror? What if your list is so long that you want to go straight back to bed and forget about it?

The good news is, you can use other tools.

To get your list down to a manageable size, divide and rename it. If you have an aversion to doing that intimidating important thing on your list, use a little structured procrastination. If you just don’t want to write a list, draw it instead.

Alexia Petrakos of the Alternating Current wrote today about how to-do lists suck. She’s tried written lists six ways from Sunday and they just don’t work for her. Her solution is to make maps and pictures instead.

I like how she describes the activity of map making and how moving her hand, hearing the sound of the marker (and sometimes the scent), and looking at them on her wall all help her remember and keep track of what she’s doing.

Appealing to multiple senses and learning styles is super effective.

I get the same result from writing my lists over and over again. I’m visual but I’m also wordy. Once I’ve written something, I have a visual memory of where it is on the page and the words I used to describe the task. Sometimes I don’t even need to look at the list again because the act of writing cemented it in my mind.

I never get that sense when I make lists on my computer, so I don’t do that anymore.

If you hate lists, quit making them. Try drawing as Alexia does. Try mind mapping, a specific type of drawing with words and pictures. If a technique doesn’t work for you, dump it and go for another one.

Do you prefer drawing to writing? Have a to-do list horror story to share? Let me know in the comments!

Mind Decluttering Mini Sessions

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For those of your who’ve been on tenterhooks wondering what the next incarnation of the brain dump would be, here it is. Keep reading to find out if it’s for you, or for someone you know (and tell them about it!)

Are you too busy and overwhelmed even to think about hiring me? Or even read this entire BLOG POST? 😉 You see a million things in front of you, every item catching your attention. Not one actually MAKING you feel like you’re whittling down your to do list.

And the panic starts to bubble in your chest.

You feel the prickle of frustration bunching your shoulders, and you burst out, “dammit, I have got to get this crap under control!” But there’s no solution to grab, and even THINKING about how to get a handle becomes ANOTHER thing on your to do list, so the idea is shoved to the back burner, again.

Meanwhile, time and money trickle out of your business. And that item you just shoved away could actually be the golden ticket that frees you from to-do-list purgatory.

Maybe you and I have talked or you’ve read my blog and know that I could help you. Then you think, “I don’t even have time to explain what’s going on! Much less carve out time to fix it.”

I’m going to give you that time.

Click here to schedule a free mini mind decluttering, or brain dump. We’ll talk for 20 minutes and get right into what’s bothering you. I listen. You feel stressed and want to attack everything at once. You can’t think straight and you’re not getting things done.

When you’re in the middle of things, it’s hard to see the way out.

This session will bring spaciousness so you can relax and step back a bit. That allows you to see the larger picture and understand what’s working and what’s not. You choose a next action or two and are confident that they’re do-able. Those holes where the money and time are leaking out will start getting plugged.

You’ll have the clarity and focus to know whether you want to work with me and what I can help you with. That’s going to be things like making more money because you’re working more efficiently and helping your clients more effectively. You’ll get back on track doing your best work with renewed energy and ease.

If you do decide that I’m your gal, we’ll concoct your perfect coaching package of phone sessions and email consultations. I wish I could solve all your problems in a mere 20 minutes, but alas, I can’t. You’ll need to commit some time if you want things to improve.

This can range from a “prepaid card” that entitles you to 15 minute decluttering hotline calls when you need them, or regularly scheduled longer sessions where we go deeper to ferret out clutter causing conditions and correct them (with alliteration!). Or a tailor-made combination thereof.

I’m offering these free sessions through June 10th only (they may come back another day, but I don’t know when, so do it now). If you’re tired of being too overwhelmed to do anything about being overwhelmed, this is your chance.

Tips for To-Do Lists

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I’m giving a talk tonight in San Francisco about optimizing your to-do list. There’s still time to sign up here: Biznik meeting.

To do list tattoo I’ll summarize my talk here, in case you can’t make it. First, there are a bunch of reasons to make daily to-do lists if you don’t already. They help you focus in on the small number of things you need to get done and actually can get done. Everyone is busy and gets distracted by myriad things daily. Put 3-5 tasks on your list.

Writing down those tasks clarifies them. When they’re in your head, they’re a little vague. If you have to write them or tell them to someone, you fill in lots of important details that your mental version overlooks. It’s important to write down projects that only you are responsible for. If you’re not accountable to anyone for them, you’ll often relegate them to your free time, and we all know that “free time” doesn’t really exist.

Make sure your list items are really to do’s and not entire projects. You can’t “do” a project. Projects have multiple steps. If “redecorate the guest room” or “design the new brochure” are on your list, you’ll feel lazy and incompetent for not doing them. Instead, put “look at curtains for the guest room,” or “draft the Services section text for the new brochure” on your list.

If there are undone tasks hanging around on your list, make a “not to do” list. This is where you write down those tasks that you feel guilty that you haven’t done, but you honestly know that you’ll never do them. Things that others want you do to, or that you feel you “should” do. Even when these aren’t written down, they nag at you. Put them on this list and then burn the list! Let go of those tasks forever.

When are you going to do the things on your list? Make sure you know where your time is going, if you find yourself running out. Track your time by setting an alarm to go off every hour. Stop and make brief notes about what you did since the last alarm. Don’t judge yourself, but get curious; when do you get most distracted? By what? How long does it take to do routine tasks? We often underestimate that time because we do them automatically and the time seems short. Until you know where your time is going now, you can’t make effective decisions about changing what you do.

Keep losing your list? Have it tattooed on your arm. Courtesy of robstephaustralia.

Natural Organizing

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You aren’t a cookie cut from a generic mold (even though you’re sweet). You deserve more than a cookie cutter approach to organizing. Methods you’ve read about in books may partially work, or not work at all. Or they’ll work for awhile but then something happens to make them stop working.

That’s why it’s so important to have your own personalized system.

Your system doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It doesn’t even have to look like a system to anyone else. What matters is that it works and its flexible (to accommodate your expanding, changing life). It has to be simple enough that if you drop it for awhile you can pick it up again without much grief.

Mainly, your organizing system has to suit who you are and what your life is like, today.

That’s why I emphasize awareness and intentionality. You know things about yourself, like, you’d rather have things on a shelf than in a drawer. Here’s an example, featuring multiple calendars. Here’s another one, from me.

I’ve tried on several occasions to use online or computer task lists and I never stick to it. I revert to small pads of paper that I keep next to my computer. That works fine for me. Although I’m on the computer all day, having the task list on there just never felt natural to me. My hand was always reaching for a pen.

My system is not terribly tidy or photogenic.

It’s a cycle of writing down notes and to-do’s and then putting the notes somewhere for safekeeping (in Evernote, usually. So, yes, I do type them) and rewriting my to do lists by hand as things get done or just dumped off the list.

There’s rarely a time when you’d look at my desk and say, “my, how organized!” That’s because I just got off a call and have a page of notes, or I haven’t crossed off enough items to decide it’s time to rewrite my list.

It’s always in progress. Always.

Why does this work for me?

  • I like a to do list I can see all the time. I don’t want to navigate to a new window to view it. That bugs me.
  • I can easily experiment with new formats and schemes, such as making categorized lists, drawing different bullet shapes, or drawing boxes around tasks to highlight them. All these things can be done instantly with paper and pen.
  • I can stuff a list in my pocket and go out and do errands without synchronizing anything.
  • I can spread out multiple pages on my desk and compare them and reorder them effortlessly.

This is just one example of how I discovered a hybrid system that works for me, based on my reading, client experience and, mostly, self awareness. There’s no reason to use a system just because a book says so, or you paid money for it.

Want help discovering how to organize your time and your stuff in ways that feel natural and are easy and satisfying to use? I’m thinking up a way to offer you a free sample of this, so stay tuned! Or, ahem, go to the Hire Me page.

Make a not to do list

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ImageTo do lists are a dime a dozen. I’ll bet you have a dozen hiding somewhere on your desk.

They have important tasks on them, but are also liberally peppered with:

  • things you don’t really have to do
  • things you keep saying you’ll do, but don’t
  • things you have no intention of doing, but think you should
  • things that were a good idea at the time, but have become irrelevant

You get the picture. The problem with having them on your to do list is that they distract you from the real to do’s, the ones that will make you money, advance your career and develop your super powers.

The beauty of a “not to do” list is that you’re allowed to keep it in the back of a drawer in the unlikely event that you’ll want to move something back to the do-able realm. Nothing will be lost. This also stops them from nagging at you.

That’s it! Start now. Hone your to do list into a powerful tool, not a catchall for every idea that comes across your desk.