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:
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.