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12 Lists That Help You Get Things Done

12 Lists That Help You Get Things Done

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    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.

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    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:

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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