The Writing Life- To Do Lists

You can say this will be a boring post if you like, but then I’ll remind you that one of the best selling books in Barns and Noble this week was ‘The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up.’

Besides, lots of people underestimate the power of a really solid to do list.  For me, a to do list freed me up to work on one thing at a time.  If I know I’ve written a thing down, I know I’ll get to it.  So, I can take the thing at the top of my list, hammer it out, and worry about what’s next on the list when I get the first thing done.

And, if you’ve tried to do lists and found it didn’t help, you’re doing it wrong.  Which is to say, you’re doing it wrong for you.  To do lists are a tool, and a good tool comes in many varieties.

Personally, I use a bullet journal to corral all my insane lists.  If you’re interested in that, you can read my bullet journal post here, or check out the website here.  But if that doesn’t fit your life, or suit your fancy, there are other options.  Write your to do list, or print it out like I have my kids do, keep them on an app lite Anydo if you’re more tech oriented.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is what goes on that to do list.

There’s a trick, though, and that trick is categorization.  My to do lists are split into categories based on time first, then by life priority.  This is something I’ve talked about in length, so I won’t go into it too much here.  Instead, let’s go over a step by step guide to making a to do list you’ll actually use.

Step one-  It’s called a brain dump, and I am not the first to suggest it.  Get a sheet of paper, and write down everything you’ve got to do.  Just free write it.  Dump it all down. Take your time.

Step two- One time goals and habits.  Now that we’ve got our list, consider first what on that list is an attainable goal, and what’s something you just want to incorporate in your life.  For example, writing a book has a definite finish line, as does setting up a Facebook page for a blog. But something like start free writing every day, that’s a habit.  So, we first separate your to do list into one and done, then habits.  Your habits go into an every day list, or if you’ve got too many, start with one, then add another when you’ve mastered the first.

Then, take everything else, and sort them by how long they’ll take.  Break big goals down to smaller goals, first by year, month, week and day.  Take writing a book for instance.  This year I want to write the rough draft and second draft of the second book of Woven.  I don’t intend to finish the book this year, just those two drafts.  So, that translates to a monthly goal this month of finishing the first part of draft one, means I want to get to page 180 by the end of the week, means I want to get ten pages done today.

Step three- At this point you should have five lists.  Habits to make, yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals.  Now, split these into categories based on the different priorities in your life.  This helps me a lot because I’ve got so many different roles, and I need to spend a little time each day on all of them.

Step four- Maintain your list.  Take time on the first day of the year to make a new yearly list, crossing off what’s done or not important anymore.  Do the same thing with your monthly lists at the start of the month, weekly at the start of the week, and don’t even make your morning to do list until the night before.

Some random tips- Some people like to color code their to do lists, and you can totally do that if you like.  I don’t because I will, for sure, not have the pen I need, or I’ll have one and it will be out of ink.  I do use an unhealthy amount of washi tape and stickers, because they make me happier about the crappy amount of grown up stuff I’ve got to do.

Remember that a to do list isn’t set in stone, and be ready to make some corrections on the fly when life happens.

Put fun things in your to do list, too.  Like a personal coffee date with yourself for a milestone goal reached.

Oh, and that brain dump thing?  It’s an every day thing for me.  I have my bullet journal with me at all time, and I’ve got a post it note pad stuck in the front cover specifically so that when I think of something that needs done, I write it down and add it to my to do list when I re write it every Sunday.

Remember, all this stuff needs done eventually.  Keeping a to do list on paper just means they’re not dancing around your brain when you try to sleep.

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