20091105-list

At the center of just about every personal productivity system are lists – GTD has it’s context lists, Pomodoro has it’s action inventory and daily to-do lists, todoodlist has, well, the todoodlist, and so on.

But there are a lot of different kinds of lists besides your task or to-do list that can help you be more productive. Lists in general are powerful tools – open-ended, constantly growing, and effective at extending our memories past the 7 or so things we can keep on our mind at any given time.

Some of the lists that can make you more productive or otherwise make life easier include:

  1. Task lists: Naturally, the most obvious is the task list, a simple list of things you have to do. A running list of the tasks you have to get done can make your life significantly easier, provided you use it religiously. For more information about task lists, check out my “Back to Basics” post from last year.
  2. Project planning: Creating a list of tasks associated with a projects can be a great way to wrap your head around the project, as well as a prompt for what to do next when you finish a task. And a list of projects will help you make sure you’re keeping up with all your commitments.
  3. Wish lists: A wishlist is a list of things you want to buy but don’t need right away. For example, I want a new electric guitar, but I’m not going to run out and buy one. When you have the money, or the time, you can take out your list and see what you want most of all.
  4. Grocery/shopping lists: One of my most effective lists is a simple one-page list I made of all the groceries I regularly bought, arranged in the order I’d find them at my local store, with a few blank spaces every so often for one-off additions. Every week, I’d print it off, cross off anything I didn’t need, and add anything that wasn’t on the list, and go shopping.
  5. Gift ideas: Nothing’s worse than the approach of Christmas with no idea of what to get someone close to you. Keep a list of odd, attractive, or just-right-for-you-know-who items throughout the year to help make Christmas, birthday, and anniversary shopping less stressful.
  6. Checklists: Any recurrent multi-step tasks – like packing for a business trip, arranging a presentation, or winterizing your home – can be done more easily and with fewer errors if you write up a simple checklist of all the steps involved and equipment needed.
  7. Reading journal: A while back I suggested that students (and other readers) keep a reading journal. Basically, this is a list of books you’ve read with notes and adequate information to recall the text later.
  8. Links and logins: In these days of proliferating web applications, almost everyone has dozens, if not hundreds, of websites they need to log into on a regular basis. Keeping a list of all these sites and your login info can be a lifesaver! Also, if you keep a list online, you can have active links to each application, making a pretty useful start page.
  9. Life lists: A list of your short- and long-term goals can be a great motivator, as well as a trigger list to help generate new projects. I also like to have a list of areas of focus, the different roles that I play, each of which comes with a different set of tasks and goals.
  10. Reference: Any information you find yourself referring to often can make a useful list – metric conversions, file types, software registration keys, birthdays, the names of your children, whatever.
  11. Logs: Broadly speaking, a log is a list of events tied to specific dates/times. Keeping a list of your exercise achievements, food consumption, words written, or other set of data appropriate for your projects will help you measure your progress as well as identify problems (like if your output drops on certain days of the week or month, or you seem to crave certain foods on certain days).
  12. Daily summaries: A one- or two-line summary of the day’s events can help to remind you of problems that arose as well as how you dealt with them, as well as track behavioral patterns that might point to illness, conflict with certain people, or other issues.

How to Keep Track of Your Lists

All those lists seems like a lot to juggle, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s not that hard. Whether you’re a committed web 2.0 wonk who wants all your lists to live in the cloud, a hardcore pen-and-paper person, or a techie who’s not quite ready to live on the Web just yet, there are simple solutions to keep your lists handy.

Pen-and-paper: A notebook (I like Moleskines and Moleskine knockoffs, but whatever works) can be easily modified to make all your lists accessible. I use Post-It tabs to identify different sections of my notebook, with tasks up front and book wishlists, gift lists, and others towards the back. A tab somewhere near the middle separates my project planning lists from my task list.

Desktop software: If you’re using Outlook or Lotus Notes, you have a task list manager at hand that can easily hold other kinds of lists by assigning categories to them. Other options include using a note-taking program like Evernote or OneNote, with a separate note for each list. These are easily backed up, which is nice, plus they can be sent to others. And they’re searchable, too. And if you’re a super-geek, check out Gina Trapani’s todo.txt-cli, a command-line based productivity program – just use contexts or projects as list types instead.

Web Applications: Any task-list manager that allows categories (Todoist is a great one, since it literally allows you to create multiple lists), or any project management application (each list can be a separate project; make sure your membership level allows you to create enough projects), or most GTD apps (use contexts or projects to separate your lists, or tags if yours offers them) can be a great list manager. For simplicity, I like tasktoy, but whatever is comfortable for you.

Wikis: Wikis are excellent list management tools. I’ve listed them separately because various wikis run on your desktop (like TiddlyWiki, a self-contained, easy-to-use wiki) or online (try PBWorks or WetPaint). You’ll have to learn some simple syntax for adding to your lists, but after that, wikis are not hard to use at all.

What other lists do you find useful? How do you manage your lists? Tell us al about it in the comments!

Love this article?