May 27, 2010

To-Do or Not To-Do

I'm sitting here looking at a list of thirteen things I have to do today. Work things. I know for sure that I'm missing five or six but can't for the life of me remember exactly what they are. I'll probably think of them as I go through my 40 flagged for followup email messages in a little while. This week is really the first time I've felt that promotion I got a last month. I'm looking for ways to clone myself.

I've never been very good at maintaining to-do lists. I have a couple iPhone applications designed to help but they don't. Same with my computer. And plain old low-tech pencil and paper. Whenever I start a to-do list, I fail miserably. My enthusiasm lasts for a day or so but fades when I realize that the to-do list won't magically update itself or add to itself by the ideas jumping out of my mind. In addition to jetpacks and flying cars I want mind-controlled to-do lists.

All this explains my desk. It's covered in square yellow post-it notes, to-dos of-the-day scrawled across them. And at some point I will try to go back, to mark things off, and I will be utterly unable to decipher my own writing. Clearly this approach isn't working.

How do you accomplish what you need to accomplish and remember the things you can't afford to forget? Are you a to-do list person?

Posted by Chris at May 27, 2010 6:30 AM

I have a desktop dachshund (of course) calendar what I write everything in. Every day, as I stumble toward the coffee maker I check it out. It's the only way.
Of course, if I forget to write it down.....

Posted by: Maribeth at May 27, 2010 7:40 AM

I use one sticky note and stick it to my computer monitor at work. I don't write a new one until the things on that one are completed. I am lucky in that I usually don't have a very long list. If the list is long, I write it on my white board and my friends hold me accountable.

Posted by: Wendy at May 27, 2010 7:46 AM

I live by my to-do list. If I don't write a thing down, odds are ridiculously good that I will either forget it or that it will drive me crazy wondering if I'm going to forget it.

It's not a system I necessarily recommend.

Posted by: Julie at May 27, 2010 8:20 AM

DIGITAL post it notes. I can't lose them the way I lose physical ones!

Posted by: christy at May 27, 2010 8:44 AM

I'm like you in that I try but usually fail at the todo list. I've done the post-it note thing too.

The best method (for me) has been a daily todo list which is nothing more than prioritizing my top few items on a post-it and trying not to forget some informally-requested items. The list usually lasts a day or two before I pitch it.

Posted by: Brad at May 27, 2010 9:07 AM

I am old school. I have a spiral notebook that i write in. When the task is completed i highlight it in yellow to show im done. I also use my calendar a lot. I put appointments at the crack of dawn with things i need to do, so when i open the calendar each day my "appointment" is waiting for me. It works for the most part. I tell my co-workers if it isnt in the notebook or on my calendar it is a safe bet it isnt going to get done. They have now started adding things to my calendar. :) Hope this helps.

Posted by: Elizabeth at May 27, 2010 9:09 AM

I swear I am not a pitch person for them, but you need Evernote. I keep everything in it! Every time one of those ideas pops into my head and I want to head off on a tangent and start researching it, I instead type it into a note in Evernote, and then go back to what I was doing. Why am I so nutty about it? Because it's everywhere! It has a web-based interface, a downloadable platform, and an app for my Droid (they also have one for the i-thingie too, even the pad one; they're really good about keeping up with stuff like that). So no matter where I am, what computer I'm on, I have access to my stuff. If you take photos or screenprints and store them in Evernote, it even makes the text searchable, so no more juggling business cards or forgetting that great quote I found on the web. And of course it can make to-do lists with happy little checkboxes as well. Sorry, though, they don't read your mind and auto-update when you complete a task...yet.

See, this is why I told you upfront that I'm not their sales gal...I know it sounds like I am, but I'm just a rabid user of their product. Oh, and did I mention it's free? They have a paid version, but thus far I haven't come close to needing it, and I consider myself a pretty heavy user (obviously :).

Posted by: Linda Bastienne at May 27, 2010 9:18 AM

I have a few mechanisms I use, and I need them all to keep track of various functions.

For emails, I flag emails that I know are important but I can't get to right away. Once a week, I go through my flagged emails and try to address and/or delegate as appropriate.

I make use of my electronic calendar to add reminders about reports due, or other items that are not on a monthly rotation. I can also use that to create "To do " items for my staff and track if it has been addressed.

For daily items that come up that I would normally use a post it note for, I have three different colored writing pads and corresponding colored folders that I write items on. For example, facilities items that someone may come up and tell me about and I need to write down because I can't address right now, that goes on my yellow writing pad, or if they hand me a note in the yellow folder. Records Management goes in Blue, etc etc.,

I go through them every two weeks to make sure maintenance logs are up to date and no pending issues.

Last thing I can really suggest is that you take 10 to 15 mins every evening and make a note of things to address in the morning. Do your list and stack your items prominently. YOu may not get to it right away, but it helps you not lose your focus on getting them done.

Best of luck in finding a system that works for you!

Posted by: varinia at May 27, 2010 9:20 AM

If you ever figure this one out, please write a post to share the solution. I've been on this bandwagon for as long as I can remember.

Posted by: martin at May 27, 2010 9:32 AM

My work and home emails are marked as "unread" until they are done, then filed or deleted.

I use Outlook at work for appointments and both personal and business. It works really well. I can see reoccurring items as well as track things from the past.

I also write out a daily to-do list (errands, phone calls etc.) so that I have the pleasure of crossing them off once they are completed.

Posted by: bacioni at May 27, 2010 10:51 AM

I am a to-do list person. I keep my lists in small spiral bound notebooks that I can doodle, write, draw on. My list for today has 16 things on it - and if I don't write something on the list, it MAY NOT GET DONE.

iPhone to do list apps don't work for me, because they are too easily out of sight, out of mind.

Posted by: sarah at May 27, 2010 11:29 AM

I love to do lists - and the best ones are paper - simply because of the huge satisfaction in crossing them off!

Posted by: Heather at May 27, 2010 11:43 AM

I can pretty much keep it all in my head, but we keep a master calendar in the kitchen so no one has an excuse for forgetting things. We got one of those Pottery Barn rail systems and we keep this month and next month on the wall, every person has a color, and all the school events, sports events, medical appointments, band stuff, custody schedules, holidays...if it's not there, it didn't happen. I'm a visual learner, so having written it and having to look at it every day keeps it in my head.

Posted by: Brooke at May 27, 2010 11:50 AM

I am a lot like you, so I have no helpful hints. I do want to know if you find a solution, could you let me know?

Also, I forget things so frequently my co-workers have nicknamed me Dory after the forgetful fish in Finding Nemo.


Posted by: debb at May 27, 2010 12:10 PM

I use Outlook (when I worked, and at home). Plus, I have a daily planner I carry in my purse and a 2'x3' calendar on the pantry next to my fridge. That's the "master". I use different highlighters to note: my appointments/activities, my daughter's appointments/activities, birthdays, holidays, and IMPORTANT stuff. But I also keep a list in a notebook of to-do stuff, which keeps getting longer and longer and longer because I am super anal about stuff.

Posted by: js at May 27, 2010 2:18 PM

Sounds like you are ripe for using GTD ( Getting Things Done ):

I swear by it, as do several of my co-workers. There is an audio book as well, get that too. This is one of those that has lots of people doing it, so you can find mentors / helpers who have been down the road of getting it going. Really helps to have someone who is using the system help you get started.

Follow up with me if you have questions / need help; it really is a great system that can keep you on your game ( and save your butt as well ).


Posted by: metawizard at May 27, 2010 4:08 PM

Oy, my struggle also.
Whatever strategy I employ, I eventually get numb to it, and it stops working.

That which has lasted the longest is the following:
(I work in 3 locations, and spend most of my time in in meetings, so my system needs to be mobile)

1. small spiral-bound notebook with dividers so first section is actions I need to take and I keep a running list, and back section is notes from meetings. This way, I only carry one thing to meetings.

2. Urgent things I send to myself as emails - either reforward, or a new one - and make the subject a short version of the action. These are always in my inbox, and I can see them on the blackberry.

3. Heavy lift items that need to get done that day go on a post it that I carry around stuck to my phone.

Keeping lists on my phone or in my computer don't work 'cause I don't look at them!
(Tried the Get Things Done app... didn't work for me)

Posted by: Lisa at May 27, 2010 4:14 PM

I'm old school with a steno pad.

I check it in the morning, after lunch, and before I leave. Adding and "checking" my tasks as needed.

And I use post its for things that have to be done by day's end.

Posted by: Mindy at May 27, 2010 6:25 PM

I have a 'list book.' I buy a moleskin notebook, the little ones with no lines and a bit of elastic to keep them closed. I write my todo lists in there as well as any other list I come up with, i scratch out things I've finished or decided didn't need done. I keep it on my desk or in my purse/backpack.

The lists I currently have in my list book: General To-Do List (I, II, III, and IV), Class Readings to Catchup on, Schoolwork, Grocery List, Meetings, Booklist, Gift Ideas (for me), Gift Ideas (for others), Upcoming Projects, Upcoming Tests, Words/Concepts to Look Up, Future Plans, Class Grades, Errands to Run, List of Potential Grad Schools, etc.

I just write down any little thing I need to remember. I feel that it keeps it all in one place with what ever kind of organization you want (or don't want). People seem baffled by how that even works for me, but I find that 'organized chaos' is the way to go.

Posted by: Kiki at May 27, 2010 7:54 PM

I am generally rubbish at to do lists as well... BUT, I found a really straightforward app for the Mac that I finally make work to my advantage. It's taskpaper and is a no bells and whistles, straightforward list app that I gladly paid for when the trial was up. Love it.

Posted by: Deeleea at May 27, 2010 7:59 PM

My system is a bit haphazard, but it works for me. It is a combination of old school writing down, visual references and electronic reminders etc. I have separate strategies in place for long-term and for day-to-day.

For day to day stuff, It is not exactly a 'to do' list, but I do write things down so as not to forget them. I always have scrap paper handy on my desk - usually an A5 notepad. At the end of the day I try to write down a list of things I need to attend to the following day. The next morning I go through the list (some things are more reminders for projects I'm busy on than actual tasks), and any new work or tasks that come in during the course of the day also get written down on the pad.

Small and quick tasks that come in either via phone or email I often try an attend to as soon as I can, for the simple reason that there are so many bigger things that it is easy for the small ones to slip through and pile up. So small tasks: in & out as quick as possible.

Incoming emails I use the flag for follow up, but also if I need to remember to come back to an email later, I will flag it.

Anything personal that I need to remember (doctors appointments, birthdays, important dates etc) get marked on my electronic calendar & written on my deskpad, so that I literally can see them at a glance. My deskpad also has a section on the side for notes, and that is where I write down any frequently needed extentions and numbers.

As for long-term things, a lot of our projects are planned at the start of the year, so we already know a lot of our relevant dates and deadlines. Anything I know of in advance, I set up electronic reminders for prompting various people (incl. myself - with so many projects it is easy to forget some!)and for any milestones that must be reached.

I also have a printout stuck up by my desk with project names & due dates & a planner of the same but with a visual timeline. This allows me to see at a glance where we are at and what is coming.

I used to be able to remember everythign out of my head, but now I am managing and co-ordinating so many different projects that I have to write things down.

I hope you find a system that works for you!

Posted by: Delia at May 28, 2010 2:53 AM

I'm not exactly a "to do"list person but I have 2 things that seem to work for me...I use a legal pad as my mouse pad and jot things down. I also use a "project planner" notebook that has lines and the left column is blank and is titles "project action notes" and I put arrows in that column for "to do " things and cross out the arrow when done. I am starting to use my Outlook calendar for more things- we will see how that goes!

Posted by: Sue R at May 28, 2010 12:25 PM