Making Lists that Work

Monday, January 23, 2017
I have always been a big believer in lists. Grocery lists. Chore lists. Guest lists. Gift lists. And yes,
writing lists. Because writing encompasses so many things the lists can get long: ideas of things to write about, assignments to finish, things to read, research to do, proposals to send out, edits to complete. The list never (and I mean never) seems to get any shorter not matter how many things I would complete and cross off of it. The lists in the other parts of my life feel helpful but lately I've been noticing that I don't feel that way about my writing lists. Instead, they make me feel overwhelmed and hopeless. What was going wrong?

According to several organization experts, I've let my lists get too long. Apparently, priorities are an important part of effective lists. Yes, it's OK to have a grocery list that is a page long. Not so much with a to-do list. Most recommend that a daily list have only three things on it.

Imagine that! Three things. I could definitely get three things done in a day. But what about all those other things beyond the three? Have three lists:

  • Daily list: three things to do that day. Make sure you're realistic about time frames. "Edit my first draft" should never be on a daily list. This is not something you could do in one day. Instead try something like "Edit 10 pages of my first draft" Your daily list should be something you can accomplish in one day so break big jobs down into manageable chunks.
  • Soon list: list of things that should make it on to your daily list in the next week. 
  • Someday list: you want to do them, you should do them, but the world won't stop if you don't get to them until next week, next month, maybe even next year. I feel like this list is more to make you feel secure that you won't forget something you want to do but not putting any pressure on you to do it tomorrow.
In order for this to work you can't spend time agonizing over the lists. Each night you should make up the daily list for the next day. I've found using post-its is helpful since they are already small -- you can't squeeze more than three things on the list. Plus there's the added bonus of being able to stick it to your computer, bulletin board, kitchen cabinet...wherever works for you. You should mull over your weekly list, adding things and crossing things off just once a week. Again pick a predictable time -- for me Sunday nights work.

Last is the Someday list. You're going to be tempted to take it out and stare at it, count the number of things, maybe even get a little depressed that so many things are on it. Stop that! You can take it out to add something to it but don't take time to study it. Just make your additions and lock it back up in it's desk drawer or computer file. Once a month you can take it out to refresh your memory so you don't forget anything. Just don't forget to tell yourself that "someday" is a long time so even if this list is long that's OK.

I'm still tempted to add just one more thing to my daily list or pull out my longer lists "just to look them over". But I've been resisting those urges and sticking to my daily list. And I definitely feel like I'm accomplishing more in the long run (no more avoiding writing and those impossibly long lists). Try it and tell me if it works for you!


Angela Hood-Ross said...

Great advice. I'm a list person. I keep 2 different calendars: one for work (40 hour job) and one for writing/free time. I keep my daily lists on these calendars because I have them with me all the time. Then I keep a small notebook where I jot down things I want to accomplish throughout the month. Maybe I'm on the right track, even though sometimes I still feel so unorganized. Thanks for posting this most helpful information.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Jodi--I can (hopefully) get three things done every day. And the idea of 3 different lists is a good one. How about a 4th: The-never-gonna-get-done list? ;)

Crystal Otto said...

That's a great idea!

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