IT Employment

Help for the chronically disorganized

List-making may seem old-fashioned to some people, but it can actually help keep your life more organized and you less stressed.

I am a big proponent of making lists. Written lists keep my mind from being cluttered even more than it already is. I think people underestimate the mind energy it takes to mentally store a list. If you're going to the grocery to pick up ten things, why not write what you need down and free your mind a little?  To me, a list is like a thumb drive. It's a separate container of information that I can access without having to bother the hard drive.

I've also found that list-keeping can help me better organize my life in other ways:

It keeps me accountable. I guess for this to work you have to be your own taskmaster. I know that if I look at my to-do list at the end of the day, and see that I haven't accomplished something I intended to, I feel a little guilty. I know, I know, guilt is not a healthy affective state but being accountable to yourself is not such a bad thing. Of course, this works best for those who are intrinsically motivated. If you're more externally motivated, let someone you work with know that a task is on your list. Or post your list on the refrigerator for your family to see. If you know that others are expecting you to do something, you might be more motivated to do it. It helps you know yourself better. By evaluating your to-do lists from time to time, you might see a pattern in the tasks you often leave unaccomplished. You can ask yourself what it is about those tasks that you dislike (making telephone calls, writing email) and work around them if you can.  If the tasks you never complete are directly related to your job, then maybe it's a sign that you're not really happy doing what you're doing. It can give me a sense of accomplishment. Not only is this true if you finish all or most of the tasks on a list, but even on those days when you just aren't feeling it, you can pick something from your list that is least objectionable. If you don't want to do anything mentally taxing, choose something that is more physical.  That way, you have completed something, even if it wasn't top priority on your list.

If you're not the paper list sort of person, here are some electronic productivity tools you might want to consider:

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

28 comments
Virgil Tracy-Island
Virgil Tracy-Island

you have a process for dealing with them. Recommend GTD by David Allen.

brf531
brf531

Us old fogies need lists, because both our short-term and long-term memories are SHOT !!

jc
jc

I find electronic lists and reminders work sooooo much better than paper. They are more portable and easier to edit and maintain. Test out a few tools that work just as well on the computer as they do on the phone. Find a favorite and put your "hands" on it several times a day. Poof, you're organized!

aiiacelite
aiiacelite

i tried all the options above but they wont work for columns whose values are basically formula resulting values (values that are as a result of formulas). is there any way out?

sokuhl
sokuhl

I have found this tool to be very useful. It sounds a little complex, but it really isn't once you start. It helps you continually consider priority and helps you uncover things that you should delete from your list! A website link is included at the bottom. I see he now has a new "SuperFocus" method, too. Instructions for Autofocus v.??4 1) Draw up your list of things to do with one task per line. (If you already have a list you can continue to use it). You don???t need to put everything on the list at this stage as you can add other tasks as and when you think of them. 2) Draw a line at the end of the list. Everything before this line is known as the Backlog. As you think of new tasks add them after the line. Everything after the line is known as the Active List. 3) You start with the Backlog. Look through the tasks in the Backlog in order and work on any tasks which feel ready to be done. Delete each task when you feel you have worked on it for long enough, and re-enter it at the end of the Active List if you need to do more work on it. 4) When you come to the line, do not go into the Active List. Instead return to the beginning of the Backlog and continue to move through it in it doing any tasks which feel ready to be done. Keep circulating in this way, until you have done a complete pass through the Backlog without any tasks being done. 5) You now cross the line into the Active List. Move through the Active List in order working on any tasks which feel ready to be done. 6) When you reach the last task on the list, you then go back to the beginning of the Backlog and repeat the process from Step 3. 7) When you have crossed off all the tasks in the Backlog, you draw a line at the end of the Active List and this now becomes the Backlog. So just to recap: Your list is divided into two parts, the Backlog and the Active List. You circulate round the Backlog until no more tasks seem ready to be done. Then you do one pass through the Active List. After that you return to the Backlog. Once you???ve done every task in the Backlog, the Active List becomes the Backlog and you start a new Active List. Deleting undone items After you have been working on the Backlog for some time it may be reduced to a few tasks which for some reason or other you are reluctant to tackle. At this stage you may find that when you go back to the Backlog from the Active List you do a complete pass of the Backlog without doing any of the tasks. If this happens, you should delete all the remaining tasks in the Backlog using a highlighter instead of a pen stroke, and then proceed as in Step 7 to make the Active List the Backlog. The next time you come to the beginning of the list, you should finally cross off the highlighted tasks by deciding what to do with each one in turn. You may elect to abandon it, re-enter it on the Active List (with or without re-phrasing), or put it into a reminder system for review at a later date. In making the decision what to do with each task, you should look at the reasons why you haven???t done it yet. Link: http://www.markforster.net/blog/2009/9/5/preliminary-instructions-for-autofocus-v-4.html

bclomptwihm
bclomptwihm

You will *ALWAYS* be doing everything from a list. The big question -is it your list or someone else's?

john.a.wills
john.a.wills

It's supposed to be by AnsuGilas, but I can't find the original contribution. This has happened quite a lot lately. Is it just me, or is there some cobold eating up initial contributions to discussions?

Tink!
Tink!

I make lots of lists, I use some of the lists, I find a bunch old lists, I throwaway many lists. Lists on sticky notes stuck to the cabinets, walls and fridge Lists on papers taped to the aforementioned cabinets, walls and fridge. Lists on colored notes on my phone Lists on colored notes on my PC (at work and at home) Lists on colored notes stuck to my desk (work) Lists on miscellaneous papers strewn about my computer desk (at home) I suppose they do help me, else I wouldn't keep making lists, but all the lists lying about sure make me LOOK disorganized!

milkanonlb
milkanonlb

A long list can be overwhelming and demotivating to make much less do. I like to make short lists (no longer than a post-it) for what "must" get done today or one each for morning/afternoon and a separate list for "want" to do. I post the notes on my computer screen as a constant reminder that can't get lost. A short list helps focus priorities. If I have a hard deadline I write a separate post-it with due date/time big, in red. I feel great accomplishment from pulling off a post-it and tossing it. BUT, don???t stick notes all over your monitor. Make one or two ???must??? lists at most. If an item isn't completed today I put it first on a new post-it and trash the old ??? the ???want??? list can linger but don't let it grow beyond one post-it. This forces you to get the tasks done. Nothing???s worse than a monitor covered with notes especially when it's the first thing you see in the morning. I like to start each day fresh and create my lists over my morning coffee.

ananthap
ananthap

The point is of course to use the list. Daily morning get into the habit of reading your diary, PIM whatever. Somebody said that there are only 4 types of actions possible. (1) Do it now. (2) Discard it now. (3) Schedule it for some other time (diary). (4) Delegate it. OK

czekalca
czekalca

List-making is easy, as evidenced by the comments above by people who have multiple lists gathering dust on their desks. My father taught me the value of list-keeping, or list management. If the list is important to me, then I leave it in front of me, think about it, keep it current, work to complete tasks on the list, and appreciate marking off the completed items. Over the years I've had personal proof of the benefits list management brings--staying organized, not forgetting little and big things, personal accountability, time management, long-term planning, and the sheer satisfaction of looking at a completed list. When I married, I tried to convince my husband that a "Let's Do It" list (as opposed to a Honey-Do list) was a good idea. He was less than enthusiastic, but did agree to try it. Together we wrote a list of about 25 things that we'd like to do around our home, then put it on the refrigerator door. Many of the items were expensive. Most required elbow grease and long-term planning and saving. When we totalled the estimated cost of doing it all, he cringed. "That'll never happen. It'll take us 20 years and $100 grand to finish it all!", he grumbled as he walked away shaking his head. But he kept his word and we worked our way through the list. Every time we completed a list item, we celebrated marking it off the list. In 5 years the list was completed. My husband was amazed, but convinced. The secret to making lists work? The list has to be important to you. When something is important, it stays at top-of-mind as a goal. And because we have deemed a goal important, our mind begins to plan around it, we talk about it, make decisions that are influenced by it, internally and externally direct our life to enable the goal's accomplishment, indulge in visualization, see ourselves during and after goal accomplishment, and even plan what life will be like after the goal is accomplished. With that kind of focus, things get done. Keeping a single list in front of you, recognizing that its goals are important, and celebrating goal accomplishment gives your mind all the tools it needs to focus and "make it so". Just remember, don't put something on the list if you aren't willing to expend the energy to make the goal a reality.

PolarCityBlues
PolarCityBlues

In about 1997 Microsoft had a wizard as part of their email and calendar based on 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen Covey which would set up a task list based on your requirements and even create a personal mission statement for the user. I had rarely felt as stressed as I did after a week of being prompted to do the things I should do as well as needed to be done. A couple of years later I learned what stress could really be like (50 hour weekend shifts and 18 hour weekdays, anybody?) and SHOHEP wasn't in the game as a stress or organisational tool: it seemed to think I needed sleep. Now I get at least 7 1/2 hours most nights and run my life out of a Moleskine notebook. It's far less bossy and has the advantage that I can also sketch in it. (When I have the time, of course).

karl.burkum
karl.burkum

Gaining a lot of energy around the Springpad app - www.springpadit.com. Not only will it handle your lists, but also all of the other random "inputs" your head consumes each day. I've tried a few different tools. Like the robustness of this along with the mobile apps.

ecto04
ecto04

My biggest problem with lists is that they frequently get buried under the clutter on my desk. And every time I put "organize my desk" on a list, well, I lose it... :-) I do wish I could be more organized. I try but it doesn't last long. Any suggestions? Maybe it really is something that creative folks just need to learn to live with...

Yogendran G
Yogendran G

I maintain an excel workbook in which I create a sheet for every day. I divide the sheet into four sections, important and urgent, important and not urgent, not important and urgent, not important and not urgent. At the end of the day, on the tasks I have worked on, I mark time against them and fill in my timesheet. It has worked very well for me.

dhobert
dhobert

I am a list maker and user. The sense of accomplishment when x-ing out a completed task is worth the energy needed to overcome the initial inertia. Hint: put something you have already completed on the list, draw a line through it and keep up the forward momentum to line-out other tasks. Mine may not be the tidiest desk in my company, but co-workers regularly ask how I can get so much accomplished. Lists keep me on task, accountable to myself and my employer, moving forward and successful.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

My work area is littered with lists. Some new, some ancient, inventories, things to do today, someday, lists of lists. Dare I say it? The list goes on! When other people see my lists they feel free to add their stuff to it. I will start a new todo list. The first item is to toss all the old lists.

seattlejimrider
seattlejimrider

The problem with lists is that you must be motivated to do them. Once you get over that hurdle (it is high) then they are very helpful in getting stuff done. Please make a list that makes lists for you.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

It reads: Make more lists! Solid advice Toni, only thing to add is that practice makes perfect. In listmaking too.

kelley
kelley

We tried something similar and it works! You idea to celebrate is one we'll have to try. Lists are great ways of not forgetting something and organizing.

lbeasley
lbeasley

I have to agree with Karl. Springpad has become my best buddy. It is simply a wonderful tool.

dhobert
dhobert

I use an old-style spiral-bound steno pad to create lists as well as keep notes of conversations, appointments, ideas. I can keep everything in one place, have a written history of what happened in a meeting, phone calls I need to return and can quickly find the germ of an idea I want to expand upon. It is portable and easier than OneNote. Rather than dampening my creativity, this method has enhanced it because a good idea doesn't get away from me and I have nearly complete recall of what happened during my day. It takes getting used to, yes, but the benefits are impressive and the peace of mind is incalculable. Maybe worth a try?

lrstuckey
lrstuckey

My coworker makes the list after she does the tasks. Then she crosses out all of them. And then she adds tasks she still needs to do.

DesertJim
DesertJim

My ex wife used to make lists of things for me to do.....

jenfarwell
jenfarwell

The only thing that organizes me is lists. On paper, one-day to-do lists where I transfer the leftovers to another list. For clients and their jobs, Excel fits the bill. Then, because Excel doesn't remind me to do things, anything further down the road than today goes into Google Calendar. I also do what your co-worker does - if I forget to put something work related on a list and do it anyway, I put it on the list and immediately cross it off I find great hope on days that seem non-productive from looking at my little page full of crossed off items.

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

I don't think I could handle someone else making a list for me.