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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 October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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