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!

New Year's Resolution Ideas for Getting Organized

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Autumn CycleGetting organized, along with losing weight and quitting smoking, is on most people's list of new year's resolutions. Here are some ideas for resolutions, and three rules for increasing your success at keeping those resolutions.

First rule for any resolution: keep it small enough to be do-able. You want a goal that's reachable soon, even if it seems insignificant. You're setting the stage for the next, bigger goal. Success breeds success.

Second rule: It's all about you. Don't compare yourself to others, especially that more organized neighbor or relative. You have your own unique skills, talents, desires and motives. Work with them, not against them. Start where you are now.

Okay, here are some suggestions. Scale them up or down as needed.

  • I will sort my mail every day
  • I will spend 30 minutes a week decluttering (use a timer!)
  • I will give away magazines before the next issue arrives even if I haven't gotten around to reading them
  • I will keep a shopping bag in my closet to put clothes I'm donating in
  • I will keep my to-do list small and manageable (put it on a Post-It)

The challenge:
How do you remember to do all these wonderful things? Despite your best intentions, you may find it hard to work these new behaviors into your life. Make it easier with reminders that work for you. Use Post-Its on the bathroom mirror; a classic. Programmed, regular email reminders are my favorite. Find a partner to trade reminders with on the phone every week.

Third rule: don't beat yourself up if you get behind. Just start again. Remember when you learned to ride a bike? How often did you fall off before you were able to fly down the street on that thing? Once you were flying, you probably didn't think about the falling part anymore. So, get on the bike.