Six To-Do list methods to get you organised

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I have a lot on my plate at the moment. I was the one who put it all on my plate so you don’t have to feel sorry for me. I’m happy to have all the things to do, but the long list can get overwhelming. That’s why it was so good to wake up yesterday* with the thought,

There’s a difference between the things I have to do, and the things I have to do today.

To-do lists are fascinating things. I think we all approach them differently and that’s why there are so many different methods out there. And because a part of my brain thinks that if I write the to-do list perfectly then I will get a whole lot more energy and miraculously get a whole lot more done, I have tried many different methods.

Mind Map

Is this even a to-do list? I mean, really? It’s not even list shaped.

I find mind-maps great for when I’m trying to get a handle on the overall shape of my life. Like the time when I was trying to figure out what options belonged to the various parts of my life and what I could just say no to because it didn’t fit in what my life was supposed to be. I don’t use it so much for everyday use. I much prefer list shaped lists like…

The Autofocus System

This system from Mark Forster had me tempted in a big way. You can watch the video here. Look at him – he seems so calm and there’s this huge list that gets crossed off as you go so there are pages and pages of finished items. And I loved the idea of looking at all you have to do and picking the things that jump out at you as the things I could do now.

But when I tried to use this method I found that the list was overwhelming. I felt like all the things on the list were on my plate. They were all tasks I had to do. And if I didn’t differentiate them somehow by writing them differently, then in my head they were all tasks I needed to do today.

I use a long list like this as a master list. I need to put every task down somewhere so I put them all in one long line in a list book (a small notebook) and use it as my depository of all the things I need to do at some stage. I’ll tell you what I do with this master list later. It’s good for my poor brain to know that all the things are written somewhere and that I know where that place is. That brings peace.

When I told Moz about this method he found another problem too. He said that if he worked that way he would only do the tasks that he found easy. The harder tasks he would leave until some magic time when he would be able to get his brain around them instantly. So when he is working on a long to-do list he uses…

The Four Quadrant Method

For Stephen Covey’s method you take a piece of paper and and divide it into four. Across the top you write Important and Not Important, and down one side you also write Urgent and Not Urgent. So you have four quadrants: Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, and Not Important and Not Urgent. You divide your tasks into each of these.

It’s pretty self explanatory but you need to remember to do the ‘Not Urgent but Important’ tasks as well as the ‘Urgent and Important’ because the not urgent tasks are usually the things that will move you forward to your dreams and such. For more info look here.

Bullet Journal

Here is my guilty secret: I love watching bullet journal videos. Like this from Little Coffee Fox. Bullet journals are awesome. Beautifully created pages from scratch. Beautiful lettering, lovely little charts of different colours taking note of the amount of water drunk each day and the amount of exercise performed, monthly pages and daily pages and goals and targets. All gorgeously laid out and coloured.

Who has time to do that?

So while I have time to watch the videos, and I use Washi tape as bookmarks to draw attention to my list pages in my everything note book, and I now write a form of an index in the front of my notebook, I couldn’t say I use a bullet journal.

Sticky Note Method

This comes from Mark McGuinness who wrote a great book called Productivity for Creative People. I think everyone is creative in some way so it should probably have been called Productivity for People. Anyway, the idea is that you write your tasks for the day on a sticky note, a Post-it note. A reasonably large one – he uses three inch by three inch size. But the day’s tasks can only be tasks you can fit onto that sticky note. Once it’s full, your day is full. The next tasks go on the next sticky note for the next day.

My Method

So what do I do? I do a bit of a combination of the lot. I keep a notebook where I list all the jobs I can think of as a running list, a bit like the autofocus method. That’s the bucket where I put all my thoughts so I don’t forget them. I also put everything else in the notebook – notes from seminars and meetings, things I need to remember about a paper I’m writing, all the stuff. So I use the bullet journal index idea in the front of my everything note book so that I can find the pages easily afterwards. I also mark the list pages with Washi tape so I can turn from one list page to one five pages earlier with ease.

I have a Collins Debden diary, a diary that my hairdresser recommended, it’s a week to a page. That gives me a place to write a list for each day, and each thing I write gets given a time segment too which sometimes I pay attention to and sometimes I don’t. But like the sticky note method, the amount of stuff I try to do each day is limited. I like being able to look at the day and see that at 2pm I should be writing a blog post and at 4pm it is time to go shopping for groceries. This could be done in a bullet journal but I like the fact that the layout is done for me.

Some very small tasks get completed easily within the time allotted. I will either put more than one thing on the line for that hour or I will just write ‘household tasks’ and use the longer list to inform what I should be doing.

I sometimes cross things off the list, and sometimes put a tick next to them, and sometimes I give myself a gold star if I’ve done extra exercise or written more than 2000 words or met some other arbitrary goal that I’ve set myself.

So I still occasionally get overwhelmed but I know I have the tools I need to divide that never ending list of tasks into smaller, more achievable chunks. And I need to trust that when I don’t get it all done today, that won’t be a problem. We are all given enough time, we just need to use it wisely and trust God with the outcome.

While I’d love to have affiliate links there are none in this post, I just have appreciated the info and pretty videos and thought you might too.

*If you’re wondering why I didn’t write this yesterday when I had the thought, it turns out that yesterday was a ‘to-don’t’ day. I needed to stop and do basically nothing yesterday. I finished reading one book and started reading another, and had lunch and dinner with friends. That was enough. No tasks crossed off. No productivity. Not even as much as one hour of exercise. But that was really necessary and important and today I’m ready to write a nice short to-do list in my diary and get on with it.

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Seasons

Priorities

Earlier this year when I was trying to figure out what to say no to I made a mind-map of my life. I divided it up into sections – family, church, work, writing, and health. In each section I put the activities that I wanted to include and make time for and I used that map as a method of saying no to those things that didn’t fit in the segments.

It was a good way of seeing what there already was prioritised in my life and of figuring out what things just didn’t fit into my priorities. A way of looking at what I valued, and a way of testing each opportunity as it came.

It wasn’t that long ago that I filled in this mind map but I can already see things that no longer fit my life. For example, one of the planned tasks under ‘work’ was to apply for a new position that I knew would be advertised at my workplace this year. This position was an opportunity I had been waiting for for years. I thought it would fulfil my desire for permanency and security and I was ready to go for it.

In the, I don’t know, three or four months since I completed the mind-map my ideas completely changed. I no longer want to apply for the job. I wouldn’t accept it if it were handed to me on a silver platter. I’m ready to change direction and so grateful that I’m not locked into a long term position.

I often get sucked into what I call ‘The Enid Blyton Mindset’. The idea that if you get everything under control, get into the right school, job, or relationship, or have a certain amount of money saved, or figure out the right exercise routine, or somehow just get every area of your life just right, then you’ll live “Happily Ever After”.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Things are constantly changing. Your exercise routine might work really well until you get sick, or the amount of money you have for a buffer might be exactly right until your car breaks down and it all gets used up. Life is particularly skilled at throwing spanners in the works. We need to be flexible, constantly changing, constantly growing.

Some seasons of life are particularly hard. One of the seasons of life that I found especially draining was when my children were small. As much as I loved my children (and still do), it was all I could do just to get through each day. I lived in a constant state of exhausted fog. I don’t think that I could have done any writing when the kids were small, even though it is the thing that gives me life and joy now. It just would not have fit into that season of my life.

The thing I’m trying to say is that our needs and wants can change over time. It’s not that we have one perfect life set-up that we are struggling towards and when we get there it will be bliss. No, I think we need to be flexible with ourselves and take the time to have a good hard look at where we are every so often so that we can adjust our list of priorities. What was once so very important may now be dropped off the list. If a new priority (maybe taking care of ageing parents) comes on to the list, other priorities (the morning tea roster at church) might have to be knocked off. Or it might just be time, like it is now for me, to deliberately change your life so that a new major priority can get major chunks of time.

What do you think of the idea of seasons? Is it time for a change in your life? Or are you just hanging on to see a certain season through and wondering if things will ever change?

I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail. I apologise for the lateness of this week’s post. I’d like to blame anyone else, really, but it’s my fault. Life happened. We’ll try again next week!

I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42. Today the artist says the art is very millennial but I’m sure all us older ones can still relate.

What are you saying “yes” to?

Rocks in a jar

Life is full of possibilities.

If you read any self-help book, any blog on entrepreneurship, any cornflakes packet, you will see that you have to trim down those possibilities. You cannot do everything. You cannot have it all. At least, not all at once.

And it’s hard work to figure out what to say yes to. At least it was for me.

I tend to think that other people’s ideas are better than mine, that they’ve thought it through more, that they know what’s going on more than I do.

So when someone asks me to do something, I tend to say yes.

But doing what everyone else tells you to do is exhausting. You just cannot fit it all in. At some point, some decisions have to be made. And as you are the only one living your specific life with your specific burdens and challenges and your specific energy levels, you are the one that needs to make the decisions about what your life holds.

You know the analogy with the jar and the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water? I have always had trouble with that analogy. Putting sharp, angry rocks in a glass jar? What happens if you push too hard and the jar breaks? It took me a while to get past that but I saw a video the other day with some ping-pong balls instead of the rocks, beads instead of the pebbles, and then sand, and then beer. And that helped.

So, just in case you are one of the three people in the western world who have not heard this analogy, this is how it works:

The jar is your life. The ping-pong balls are the big things in your life. You need to put the ping-pong balls in first: family, friends, health care, time with God. The beads are the slightly smaller but still important things: your job, house, car, looking after those. The sand is everything else. The small stuff: surfing Facebook, watching TV, that sort of stuff. The beer is just to remind you that even if your life is full, you can still have a beer with friends (I’m not so sure about that last part, I’ve definitely had times where life was so full that a beer with friends would have pushed me over the edge, but maybe that’s just me).

It took me a while to understand something about this whole example (and I may be the only one who has trouble with this) but the thing is not to just state that the important things are ping-pong balls, but to schedule time to allow these ping-pong ball things to happen. Not to just say to yourself, “family is one of my top priorities” but to actually map out in your calendar that four nights a week you are not doing anything other than spending time with your family, that Saturday afternoon is for a family car trip, and that Sunday all the family will be going to church and eating lunch together afterwards. Schedule time for the important things first, then put in time for the less important things, and let the sand take care of itself.

Ok, so this is a helpful place to start, but for me I still had difficulty with it – what are my ping-pong balls? What exactly are the important things?

I started on this saying no journey because of two things: I was sick and tired of always feeling sick and tired, and I had decided I wanted to make time to write. I needed to clear my schedule so that I could exercise, and make and eat healthy food, and rest, and I needed to clear my schedule so that I could follow my dream and write a book.

Now, cutting down my TV viewing, and my social media time was a good start. (Notice I didn’t say cutting out, just cutting down – some relaxation is important). But it wasn’t enough.

If I kept saying yes to party-plan parties, all the church activities, dinner with everyone, social events, work opportunities and so on, I would have neither the time nor the energy to write anything. I needed some way to divine what belonged in the ‘important’ category.

I made a mind-map. You can tell how serious this is by the fact that I made a mind-map. I hate them. Lists are my thing. But I tried a few lists and they didn’t quite work, so the mind-map seemed the way to go this time.

The segments of my mind-map were: Family, church, work, health, and writing. In each one of those segments I included the things I thought were important. My feeling was that if something didn’t fit into one of those segments then it was sand.

Here’s a new thing that I learned. In the Family section along with the cooking, washing, budgeting and shopping, I also included ‘emotional energy for my family’s needs’ and ‘Saturday adventures’. I realised that I needed to put down-time in the ping-pong ball section if I was to live the life I wanted.

The other thing for me was defining the writing as a section on its own. As its own collection of ping-pong balls.

Writing is my dream, and it is my ‘thing’. It took me a long time to figure that out. Just so as you know, I’m in my mid-forties now, and I think I may have finally found the thing I love to do. I have tried many different hobbies – art, craft, exercise, maths, science, music, dance – none of them filled the gap in my life the way that writing has done. I’m hopeful now that I have found the passion of my life.

I read this amazing book called The Art of Slow Writing Louise De Salvo that described the lives and loves of many different authors throughout history. As I read it I found that I related to oh, just about every category. I remember telling my friend that I wanted to write a book, but doesn’t everyone? She said no, not everyone wants to write a book, and that maybe I should give it a try.

So I did give it a try, and I enjoyed it immensely. I enjoy the process and I enjoy the outcome.

However, in my mind my writing can be less important that any other important thing that anyone else would want me to do. You see I don’t know that I am ever going to be a successful author. In order to become a writer, I need time to practice. Time to write books that will never be seen by another human being. Time to fail. Time to learn the craft. And I have had difficulty allowing myself that time because my (maybe never seen or used by another human being) stuff just didn’t seem as important as anyone else’s (already out there and doing good) stuff.

I needed to change that. To change my mindset.

I’ve found some books really helpful to me in letting me know that it was ok to follow my dream. One is The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeuerst. She does a wonderful job of explaining that there is a job that only you can do, and that you should spend your time doing it. That it is right to say no to some opportunities if it stops you from doing the one thing that you should be doing.

Jon Acuff in his book Quitter says that if you figure out what your dream is, then you will spend less time doing the things you like, and more doing the things you love. I really like the idea of filling my life with things I love, things that I am meant to do. The idea of me giving to the world a gift that only I can give, living a life with meaning and purpose.

When you have that shining orb in front of you, that reason for living, then it is easier to throw off those things that ‘hinder and so easily entangle’ and to ‘run with perseverance the race set before you’. To run my own race. To reach my own goal. To give the thing I give the best. To live my best life. For all of that, I needed to learn to say no. Otherwise I am like a ‘wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind’ insecure, unsure, exhausted, and going nowhere.

The good book says, “each of you should carry your own load”. God has given you a load to carry. He has made you “to do good works which He planned beforehand for you to do”. It’s worth asking Him what he made you to do, thinking it through, finding out what your special shiny ping-pong ball is.

So, step one towards saying no: figure out what you’re saying yes to. Know your dream. Write your vision statement.

I have learned that dreams and goals are different. Where a goal is a short term, achievable stepping stone towards your dream,  your dream, according to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is a big, unachievable, shining city on a hill that you are moving towards. A dream gives you purpose. Jenny Baxter agrees. She says in her blog Treasuring Mothers that your dream needs to be big enough that you can’t achieve it on your own. You need a dream that is big enough that you are dependent on God to come through for you to make it happen. Your dream is your hope and purpose – the thing God put you on the earth to accomplish.

That’s the thing that will allow you to say no, and help you figure out when to say yes. Cherish your dream, value it, invest in it, give it your all. And make sure that you don’t let all the sand eat away the time that belongs to the ping-pong ball of your dream.

Have you found out what your shiny ping-pong ball is? Do you agree that knowing what to say yes to is the first step to saying no? Have any of you lovely readers ever tried applying the ping-pong ball method to your lives?  How did it go?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.