A Daily List

Previously on this blog I talked about ‘The Everything List’ – the big brain-dump list of everything, the list that you use to clear your brain and to keep track of all the different jobs that you need to do. That is a really important list to use to get life organised, but it is not a list that you can work off on a daily basis.

If you just use the one big list, you run into a couple of problems pretty quickly:

1) You can jump from thing to thing on the list, never quite finishing anything and never getting focused work done, and

2) You end up feeling like you never achieve anything because the list never gets any smaller. 

This means you never feel productive, never get that nice feeling of being finished, never feel satisfied that you’ve done a good day’s work, and that leads to procrastination.

There is a solution: use a daily list.

The list for the day should be small. It should contain only the number of things that you can realistically achieve in that day. At first, that might be hard to judge, but as you go on you’ll start to see how much you can do and limit your list to those things.

For example, it took me a while, but I realised that editing 5,000 words takes me about two hours. I used to hope that I could squeeze it into an hour or so, and add more to the day. But now I know that if I get a 5,000 word editing job, I need two hours to do it. And so I set that time aside. I don’t try to do more than I can in the number of hours I have.

To keep the list small, it’s helpful to write it in a small place. You could use a Post-it note or an index card. I use a paper diary that has a week to a page, so each day has a small section of about 2 cm by 5 cm. The diary has the hours of the day on it too, so if I need to block out two or three hours for a job or activity I can do that and limit the amount that I can add to the rest of the day. Just having the limited space to write the list on keeps me aware that my time is limited too.

With this small space to write your daily list, you then turn to your master list. Look down that list and figure out what you are going to attempt to do today. What does today hold? As your eyes run down the master list, some things will catch your attention, maybe because they are urgent, or maybe because you have a desire to do them today. Both these attitudes are good – in fact, it’s a good idea to have a mix of things you have to do and things you want to do on your list if you can possibly achieve that. And don’t forget all the regular things too – checking email, washing clothes, all those repeating tasks. You need to set aside time to do those too. 

But only as much as you can fit into a day.

And what if a new job appears through the day? Because you’re almost guaranteed that something’s going to show up. You’ll have a request pop into your email in-box. You’ll get a phone call. Someone will knock on your door. 

Well, the thing is, your day is full. The new job either goes on the master list, or it goes on tomorrow’s list. But you don’t just try to squeeze it into today. Today is booked already. You have a complete list today.

If the job is extremely urgent, then you can bump one of today’s jobs onto tomorrow. But I don’t recommend that. If at all possible, tell the asker that your day is full today, but you can do the job tomorrow. You’ll be surprised at how often they will accept your explanation and put off the deadline.

Wouldn’t it be nice if time was unlimited? If you could squeeze more and more in to a day? But it’s not the case. Time and energy are limited commodities and we need to act as if they are. We need to take control of our day and use our time to serve us and to enable us to do the work that we have chosen to do.

Annie Dillard said, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.’ 

Let’s use our daily lists to make sure that how we spend our days gives us the opportunity to give to the world the gift that only we can give.

Do you have another way to organise your day? Do you use pen and paper, or an app on your phone? How do you make sure you don’t try to squeeze too much into a day?

The Everything List

Today’s post is for you beautiful people who are feeling really overwhelmed right now.

The people who are finding that every time you turn around there’s yet another thing that you have to do.

The people who feel like they have so much in their head that if they add another thing then something will fall out. In fact, things might already be falling out, might be being missed, and you have no way of knowing what it is that you have already forgotten.

I have an excellent tool for just this situation. A tool that will work, just for you.

It’s an old fashioned tool. You might be so into apps and computer programs, smart phones and smart watches that you may have forgotten that this tool exists. But it’s a very good tool.

Excellent, in fact.

And for the situation of total overwhelm, I believe there is nothing better that you can use.

It’s a pen and a piece of paper.

Or, you know, a pencil, if you want to go even older school.

But make sure the piece of paper is a big one.

And this is what I want you to do:

Write down everything that you have to do on the piece of paper. Transfer everything on your mental list to the paper list.

No job is too big or too small. 

Just write it all down.

  • Clean the car
  • Finish the report
  • Make tomorrow’s lunches
  • Sort the sock drawer
  • Paint the house
  • Visit Great Aunt Mary
  • Buy Christmas cards
  • Write to the teacher about Billy’s homework

No job is too insignificant for this list. No job is too far off in the future. Every single thing that you can think of that you need to do, or to organise, every phone call or email you need to make, anything at all that requires an action or thought from you belongs on this list.

And another thing, resist the urge to sort the contents of this list right now. That comes later. At the moment your job is to dump on the piece of paper all the things you’ve been carrying around in your head.

You might even take a couple of days or a week to complete the list. You might think of new things to put on there. That’s good, just write them down.

Once you’ve got everything on your piece of paper you might find that you feel better already. There is a big difference between keeping it all in your head, and knowing that it’s safely written down somewhere.

So enjoy that feeling. Take a few deep breaths. 

Then look at the list again.

Now is the time to sort.

Now, there are a few ways that you can sort the list. And each of these could have it’s own blog post. But I’ll briefly outline them here.

1) You can make a big timeline. Give the jobs a due date. Put them on your calendar on that date. Now you don’t have to worry about the jobs until their due date comes around. You know your calendar will remind you then. So you can give yourself some brain space.

You don’t need to ring Great Aunt Mary until her birthday next month. Put it on the calendar.

Painting the house will be an autumn job, maybe next year. Put it on the calendar.

On the other hand, writing to the teacher about Billy’s homework needs to be done tomorrow. So put it on your calendar for tomorrow. There will only be a (comparatively) few jobs on tomorrow’s list and you can do them then.

2) Another way is to use the urgent/important quadrant method.

Divide another sheet of paper into four quadrants. Along the top write Urgent on one and Not Urgent on the other, down the side in the same way write Important and Not Important.

Now you divide your jobs among the quadrants. Are the jobs urgent and important (quadrant A)? Important but not urgent (quadrant B)? Not important but urgent (quadrant C)? Or neither important nor urgent (quadrant D)?

Once the jobs are sorted into the quadrants then you have four methods of dealing with them. 

For the A jobs, you really need to do those now. The B jobs need to be planned for in the future. The C jobs can be delegated to someone else. And the final quadrant? Those things should be dropped. You shouldn’t be wasting your time even thinking about them.

3) Another way to sort the jobs is using a mind map. I have created a map with me in the centre and from centre come categories such as home, work, school, church. Then looking at my large list, I divide the jobs among the categories. This helps me see which part of my life is the most overwhelming right now and helps me make decisions that might change that. 

4) A fourth way is to batch your jobs. Make a list of phone calls you need to make. Things you need to do in the car. Things you need to do on the computer. Things you need to do around the house. Or batch them under the headings of Do, Write, Call and Buy. 

Then when you’re in the car, do as many of those things as you can. When you’re ready to make phone calls, make them all. When you are able to get into email, write as many of those pesky emails as you have time for.

There are probably other ways to sort the big list of jobs. If you have a good method, I’d love for you to write to me and let me know about it.

One last thing I need to say on this topic is, make sure you keep the master list!

You might want to transfer it to a spreadsheet, or some notes software like Evernote or even to a task management app (I’m using the Moleskine app right now), but you really need to keep it so that your brain stays content that all of the jobs it was trying to remember are listed somewhere safe and sound.

I guarantee that this method will lead to clearer thinking, and much less overwhelm.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you. Please use the Contact Me form at ruthamos.com.au or find me on Facebook or on twitter @amos_rj.