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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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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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