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The Power of the List: Essential Lists for Productivity

The Power of the List: Essential Lists for Productivity

    If there is anything that I have learned from trying to become “more productive” and “doing” GTD over the last few years is that you are only as productive as the weakest part in your system. Your system can be anything really; it doesn’t have to be a mass of expensive online and digital tools, it can be a crappy notebook and pen as long as you are using and reviewing as much as you need to keep things out of your head and moving forward.

    After almost 4 years of doing this GTD and productivity thing, I have to say that the most important part of my system are lists; they are the core of anything that I have used as a tool and without them my system wouldn’t exist. If you aren’t a list keeper or a wannabe list keeper, take a look at the following lists that are considered to be essential.

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    Context specific Action Lists

    The action list, or what some of you non-GTD peeps might call “to-do lists”, are list of one-off tasks that you have to complete. The list is composed of single tasks that you can complete in a sitting like making a phone call, drafting a letter, reading a chapter in a book etc.

    Action lists that are context specific mean that you can create a list that is related to a tool or location like a list of stuff that needs finished while at home, on the computer, away from home, or even a specific tool like Visual Studio or Photoshop.

    Projects Lists

    Following action lists, we can’t forget about project lists. There are two different types of project lists:

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    1. A full list of projects
    2. A list for one project that outlines the steps of the project

    A full list of projects entails a flat list of all the current projects that you are currently acting on. We are talking about canonical GTD project lists here. You can also get sort of creative with this list by making sperate projects lists that match your “Areas of Focus” in your life, like School projects, Work projects, Home, Personal, etc.

    A list for one project that outlines the steps of the project can be used as a “Master Plan” for that project. This of course isn’t a frozen plan of any kind, it can be updated as you see fit. If you are using a task manager that doesn’t handle outlining very well (think Outlook) you could create an outline of the project in a Word document and then put a link to it in the note field of the project task in Outlook. This allows you to refer to the project when you need to, especially after you finish a few actions off of your action lists.

      Running Lists

      Running lists are lists of things that you add to on a consistent basis like books to read or restaurants to try out. Running lists are super powerful in that they keep the entries out of your “core” task management system and can be referred to when you need them.

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      The way that I handle running lists is that I have all of them stored on Dropbox in simple text files. I can open them from anywhere I have internet access and the best part is that I don’t have to rely on some “proprietary” format like Springpad or Evernote to handle them. They are just plain ol’ text files and because of that, highly portable.

      Some of the running lists I suggest are books to read, bands to check out, restaurants to try (with the city included in the title), things you want to buy, movies to watch, red flags of things that kill your productivity, and even a daily journal.

      Template Lists

      Once I figured out the idea of creating templates for projects that happen again and again, it gave me back a large amount of time that I would have used creating a project and setting up all the actions and dependencies in my task manager. I now create a project template inside of OmniFocus and set its status to “on hold”. When I need to use it I copy it and then change the copies status to active and go from there.

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      The thing is that you don’t have to be a OmniFocus user to use project templates. You can just as easily create a document or text file with the outline of what the project entails and then refer to it when you need it.

      Some of the template lists I suggest would be getting ready for a personal business trip, family vacations, morning and evening routines, end of week routines, bills to pay every month, etc.

      Conclusion

      The power of the list is truly amazing. You wouldn’t think something so easy to make and dumb could have such a huge impact on your life, that is unless you have a set of important lists that you use on a daily basis. Lists help you stay focused and learn from your past successes and mistakes. They help you remember mundane things that you would forget otherwise and provide a way for you to stay organized. They are a good way of seeing where you came from and where you are trying to be in your profession and/or personal life.

      I know there are some list users that read Lifehack, so with that, what are your essential lists for productivity? Post them in the comments below.

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      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on September 18, 2019

      15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

      15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

      You may think that you don’t have time for office organization, but if you really knew how much time that disorganization cost you, you’d reconsider.

      Rearranging and moving piles occasionally doesn’t count. Neither does clearing off your desk, if you swipe the mess into a bin, or a desk drawer.

      A relatively neat and orderly office space clears the way for higher productivity and less wasted time.

      Organizing your office doesn’t have to take days, it can be done a little at a time. In fact, maintaining an organized office is much more effective if you treat it like an on-going project, instead of a massive assault.

      So, if you’re ready to get started, the following organizing tips will help you transform your office into an efficient workspace.

      1. Purge Your Office

      De-clutter, empty, shred, get rid of everything that you don’t need or want. Look around. What haven’t you used in a while?

      Take one area at a time. If it doesn’t work, send it out for repair or toss it. If you haven’t used it in months and can’t think of when you’ll actually need it, out it goes. This goes for furniture, equipment, supplies, etc.

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      Don’t forget about knick-knacks, plants (real or artificial), and decorations – if they’re covered with dust and make your office look shabby, they’re fair game.

      2. Gather and Redistribute

      Gather up every item that isn’t where it belongs and put it where it does.

      3. Establish Work “Zones”

      Decide what type of activity happens in each area of your office. You’ll probably have a main workspace (most likely your desk,) a reference area (filing cabinet, shelves, binders,) and a supply area (closet, shelves or drawers.)

      Place the appropriate equipment and supplies are located in the proper area as much as possible.

      4. Close Proximity

      Position the equipment and supplies that you use most within reach. Things that you rarely use can be stored or put away.

      5. Get a Good Labeler

      Choose a label maker that’s simple to use. Take the time to label shelves, bins, baskets drawers. Not only will it remind you where things go, but it will also help others who may have a need to find, use, or put away anything in your workspace.

      6. Revise Your Filing System

      As we move fully into the digital age, the need to store paper files has decreased.

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      What can your store digitally? Are you duplicating files? You may be able to eliminate some of the files and folders you’ve used in the past. If you’re storing files on your computer, make sure you are doing regular back-ups.

      Here’re some storage ideas for creating a smooth filing system:

      • Create a meeting folder – Put all “items to be discussed” in there along with items that need to be handed off, reports that need to be given, etc. It’ll help you be prepared for meetings and save you stress in the even that a meeting is moved up.
      • Create a WOR folder – So much of our messy papers are things that are on hold until someone else responds or acts. Corral them in a WOR (Waiting on Response) folder. Check it every few days for outstanding actions you may need to follow-up on.
      • Storage boxes – Use inexpensive storage boxes to keep archived files and get them out of your current file space.
      • Magazine boxes – Use magazine boxes or binders to store magazines and catalogs you really want to store. Please make sure you really need them for reference or research, otherwise recycle them, or give away.
      • Reading folder – Designate a file for print articles and documents you want to read that aren’t urgent.
      • Archive files – When a project is complete, put all of the materials together and file them away. Keep your “working folders” for projects in progress.
      • File weekly – Don’t let your filing pile up. Put your papers in a “To File” folder and file everything once a week.

      Learn more tips on organizing your files here: How to Organize Your Files for Better Productivity

      7. Clear off Your Desk

      Remove everything, clean it thoroughly and put back only those items that are essential for daily use.

      If you have difficulty declutter stuff, this Declutter Formula will help you throw away stuff without regretting later.

      8. Organize your Desktop

      Now that you’ve streamlined your desktop, it’s a good idea to organize it.

      Use desktop organizers or containers to organize the items on your desk. Use trays for papers, containers for smaller items.

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      Don’t forget your computer desktop! Make sure the files or images are all in organized folders. I’d recommend you clear your computer desktop everyday before you leave work.

      9. Organize Your Drawers

      Put items used together in the same drawer space, stamps with envelopes, sticky pads with notepads, etc.

      Use drawer organizers for little items – paper clips, tacks, etc. Use a separate drawer for personal items.

      10. Separate Inboxes

      If you work regularly with other people, create a folder, tray, or inbox for each.

      11. Clear Your Piles

      Hopefully with your new organized office, you won’t create piles of paper anymore, but you still have to sort through the old ones.

      Go through the pile (a little at a time if necessary) and put it in the appropriate place or dump it.

      12. Sort Mails

      Don’t just stick mail in a pile to be sorted or rifle through and take out the pieces you need right now. Sort it as soon as you get it – To act, To read, To file, To delegate or hand off. .

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      13. Assign Discard Dates

      You don’t need to keep every piece of paper indefinitely. Mark on files or documents when they can be tossed or shredded.

      Some legal or financial documents must be kept for specified length of time. Make sure you know what those requirements are.

      14. Filter Your Emails

      Some emails are important to read, others are just not that important.

      When you use the filter system to label different types of emails, you know their priority and which to reply first.

      Take a look at these tips to achieve inbox zero: The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

      15. Straighten Your Desk

      At the end of the day, do a quick straighten, so you have a clean start the next day.

      Bottom Line

      Use one tip or try them all. The amount of effort you put into creating and maintaining an efficient work area will pay off in a big way.

      Instead of spending time looking for things and shuffling piles, you’ll be able to spend your time…well…working and you’ll enjoy being clutter free!

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      Featured photo credit: Alesia Kazantceva via unsplash.com

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