Do you know someone who seems impossibly well organized? They never miss an appointment, are never late with a payment, and they can juggle multiple projects at once without ever dropping a ball. Do you wonder how they manage to do this? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, it’s not hard.
If you have horrible time management skills, you will struggle more than others to achieve the goal of being totally organized, but you can make great strides in spite of that shortcoming by simply using lists. Just like people who weigh themselves everyday weigh less than people who don’t, people who use lists everyday get more done than people who don’t use them. This strategy is extremely effective for Type A or OCD personalities, but even laid-back casual individuals will notice a boost in productivity with the simple use of a list.
Why is using a list so effective? First of all, it helps you remember what needs to be done. How often have you walked in your front door thinking, “I need to remember to weed the front landscaping” only to forget it the minute you are inside because you are confronted by the dog waiting for a treat, a load of laundry in the dryer waiting to be folded, and the phone ringing? When you sit down to make a list of things that need to be done, you can focus all of your attention on remembering the tasks you must complete.
Second, when you make a “to do” list, you are forced to organize your thoughts. Being a grown-up comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of distractions. It’s hard to concentrate on what you need to be doing for the school fundraiser you are helping with when your kids are all asking for help with homework. Likewise, it’s hard to remember where you put the school yearbook order form and when it is due when you are trying to schedule the air conditioning repair person to come fix the a/c. When you devote a few minutes each day or week to creating a list, you can get all the details of your life down in one spot that you can easily reference.
Third once you have all of your tasks laid out on paper in front of you, you can quickly and easily prioritize tasks or choose them based on the time you have available. When you operate without a list, you might start projects that you feel NEED to be done but that you don’t have time to complete leaving you at the end of the day with nothing accomplished instead of completing several small tasks if you only had small periods of time to get things done during the day.
Finally, even if you aren’t competitive or obsessive by nature, none of us is comfortable with leaving a list of things to do completely undone. Lists make you accountable and compel you to get things done. The real over-achievers can’t rest until every item is crossed off the list, but even the less intense will feel some compulsion to get a few things checked off by the end of the day. So, even if you are satisfied with accomplishing three items on a 10-item list, chances are that accomplishment is more than you would have achieved without the list. We can’t ignore our shortcomings when they are in print.
List-Making Tips and Tricks
List-making isn’t rocket science. Armed with paper and a pen/pencil or dry erase board and marker or note app on your phone, anyone can make a list. Here are a few things that might not have occurred to you though that can make your list-making experience more effective and enjoyable. I will provide them in list form just to put you in the right mood too.
- Write down one or two things that you are certain to do (e.g. unload dishwasher, eat breakfast) so that you get the “checking things off the list” momentum moving.
- Break big tasks down into sub-tasks so that you can make progress (and see it in print) even if you can’t complete a task all in one day.
- Post your list somewhere very visible. If you spend most of your day at your desk, display it prominently there. If you are in and out of your car all day, leave it on your center console. If you are bustling about the house all day, hang it on the refrigerator door or by the front door.
- Enlist a friend for accountability and report to each other at the end of each day with the list of items you got done.
- If you get discouraged easily, limit yourself to 5-10 tasks per day. This will force you to list only the most important tasks and will keep you from feeling unsuccessful since finishing 9 out of 10 tasks feels a lot better than finishing 9 out of 30.
I assure you that you will notice a big improvement in your productivity and organization if you start making a daily to do list. Already a list maker? Please share your tips and tricks with the rest of us!