Two Super Sexy Tips to build a better To Do List

Let’s talk about something really sexy today.  Say it with me.  Information Capture.  Oh, baby.

Hi, my name is Melissa, and I suffer from faulty information capture disorder.

I blame two things:

  1. My inability to keep one capture system on my person at all times.

  2. The adorable weirdos. 

See, I like the idea of going paperless and keeping everything on my phone, but I have a love/hate relationship with my phone.  Inside the house, I don’t carry it around with me.  I do keep it on my person when I’m out with the kids, but I may ditch it if James isn’t around.

I love scratching out a to do list longhand, but as with my phone, I then forget to carry the papers with me.  My purse already has enough weighing it down; I don’t need to stuff in spare notebooks.

And even if I DO have the capture device at hand, my own hands probably aren’t free to jot down a thought.  I swear I spend half of my waking hours walking Mac about the house.  Or holding a book of the picture variety.  Or cooking something.  Or fending off a toddler attack.  You get the idea.

So I’m generally thinking of things I need to do at the worst possible moment when I can’t write it down and then forgetting when I’m at the computer and can actually do something about it.  Face palm.

I have finally decided to take a page from law firm Melissa and recreate my previous notebook system.  No point in reinventing the wheel.  For my first year or so at the firm, I went through scads of legal pads.  That’s what lawyers do, right?  My issue was that some of the stuff I’d need later and some I wouldn’t.  I would end up with random ripped pages all over the office.  All adorned with my own perfectly legible penmanship.  (For those of you who don’t know me, my handwriting is atrocious.  Like worse than a 4th grade boy’s.  No offense meant to all the 4th grade boys out there.  But they probably aren’t reading this blog so I’m probably safe.)

So after a few years of living in a crinkly sea of yellow pages, I picked up (well, asked my assistant to pick up) some old school spiral bound notebooks.  I developed a system where I would use two of them.  One would be for notes.  I would take it to meetings or grab it the instant the phone rang.  By dating of entries and some strategic flagging, I was better able to find things than the previous flurry of legal pads.  I dated the cover of each notebook as it started and ended, such as 7/1/2012 – 1/9/2013, so that I could dig up things if needed.  I rarely did.  (I tried a system of client-specific notebooks, but this was short-lived.  It was just too many notebooks.)

The other notebook sat open right in front of my computer.  Each week, I would write out my “to dos” by project or client.  Under each big category, I would break everything down into as many steps as needed.  I liked that things were grouped instead of just a giant list down the page.

Well, you guys know I said I’m confused on my priorities right now.  To make some headway, I decided to resubmit to the To Do List.  I pulled out a notebook, slapped a date at the top of a page, and wrote out all my current projects.

But this time I’m taking it a step further.

To be more realistic and get ‘er done, I’m adopting two important additional steps.  Actions items, if you will.  Yay business speak!  Synergy!  Client development!  OK, I’m done.

Schedule the Items

Now the left hand page has my projects and the right hand page shows the days of the week with three blocks for each day.  See, I’ve finally realized that I have three get ‘er dun opportunities each day.  1) Before the kids get up, 2) nap time, and 3) post bedtime.

This is forcing me to be realistic about my schedule.  If I’m running three mornings a week, I’m probably not also going to crank out a blog post in that morning slot.  If I’m going out with James one evening, I won’t have time to order a swim float on Amazon.  You get the drift.

It also allows me to plan for known unknowns.  The goal is always for the kids to stay in their beds until 800.  Mac usually wakes up sometime between 700 and 730.  Sometimes he sings to himself, but sometimes he demands to start his day.  I don’t know when this will be, but I probably shouldn’t have an airtight schedule every morning because Mac will stomp all over it as some point.

And I can plan my energy better.  Lately, it was been HOT.  We are all wiped out from the sun.  We may be tired from shenanigans at the pool.  I’ve definitely been resting more than I used to during naptime.  So maybe, you know, I shouldn’t plan to do intense brain work at naptime.

Actually LOOK at the List

I know, this sounds like a no brainer, right?  But hear me out.  You know how sometimes you feel so relieved to have your brain dump and everything is out and scheduled and you feel like you completed something so you can just put it away?  No?  Well, that seems to happen to me.  It’s like having a plan gives me permission not to worry about it.  I know, it’s weird.

But no longer.  I’m trying to leave the list in a conspicuous place.  I’m trying to refer back daily.  Multiple times a day even.

The whole thing is a work in progress.  I still don’t have a capture solution for when something strikes when I’m changing a diaper or walking Henry to school.  And it doesn’t fix the 60 open browser tabs I have.  (Not an exaggeration.  I just checked.)

But it is a start.

How about you?  How do you capture all of those things you need to do?  Paper?  Paper free?  And what about when you remember something in the shower?

5 thoughts on “Two Super Sexy Tips to build a better To Do List

  1. maggie says:

    My system is similar to law firm Melissa’s. Except that it’s written on the back sides of printer paper that only got a single side of printing before heading to the recycle bin. You would think that professor Maggie could raid the supply closet for something a little better. I’ve tried notebooks and aps and whiteboards. Scrap paper is the answer. Also, there are three of them on my desk at all times. They are folded in half and nested one inside the other. The first one, and the innermost layer in the nest is long term. These are projects with due dates that are more than a week away or new ideas that have no due dates at all. The next is the weekly list. Some of the items here are subsections of items on the long term list. Others are things that are due this week or meetings I need to attend. The final and outermost layer is the daily list. On the top half of the daily list is every task that I plan to accomplish today. The bottom half is a list of all of the places that I need to show up at a specific time. Ideally, the daily list is extremely detailed, listing every step of a project and just slightly overambitious. The key to all of this is the red pen used to rank each item on each list in order of importance. I require the satisfaction of crossing something off the list, but I also need to know exactly what’s next or I tend to cast about before jumping into the next project.

    I haven’t really managed to apply this system at home. I do have a long term projects list on the frig. Sometimes I have a daily list, but that really only happens when there’s something going on, like company coming.

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