Do you like to do lists? Personally, I love them, need them, cannot function without them. Yes, I have 7 to do lists, and each is vitally important to my productivity. Why so many? One, because I have OCD (see title of this blog series). Two, because I run a thriving marketing business with about a dozen contractors who report to me and 7 clients I work with on a long-term basis along with several others I work with on an ala carte basis. In addition to that, I also maintain a career as an author, own five publishing imprints, and have an awesome family that includes a husband, a toddler, eight pets, and soonish-to-be two adopted children.
Even if I didn't have OCD, I would totally need crazy organization systems just to keep up with it all! So let me tell you how I use to do lists to help me get it all done, and then you tell me whether you're planning on trying out any of these cool tips and tricks.
To circle back and learn more about my history with OCD and the purpose of this blog series, GO HERE. Otherwise, keep reading…
Keeping the Count: I use my email inbox as a to do list. If an item is sitting in my inbox, it means I need to address it. I start each morning by going through my email and working to get the count between 5 and 10. Fewer than 5 emails freaks me out for some reason and more than 10 means I have to keep sorting and sifting before starting in on any other tasks for the day.
Unroll.me: One way to keep my count down is to allow fewer emails to make it straight to my inbox. That's why I love unroll.me. It bundles up some of my lower priority emails into a single digest and also makes it easy for me to unsubscribe from spammy junk lists or other things I don't want hitting my inbox. This is a free tool, and I highly recommend it.
Boomerang: Another Gmail integration that helps me keep my inbox to do list manageable is Boomerang. I don't think it's exaggerating to say this handy little add-on has changed my life! The most important tasks either get handled straight away or stay in my inbox as part of my count. Some tasks are reserved for when I have enough time rather than a specific date. When I'm not ready to handle a message just yet, I Boomerang it, requesting that it come back later. Sometimes I'll have something come back in 2 hours, sometimes 4, sometimes tomorrow afternoon, and sometimes two weeks in the future. I can also schedule things to hit at specific times too. I love Boomerang, because it keeps my inbox count down and reminds me of outstanding tasks by returning them to my inbox. If an email comes back and I'm still not ready to address it, I'll Boomerange it again… and again until the time is right.
Email it to Me: If someone needs me to do something important, I ask them to email me about it. That way I have the full details and it gets into my to do list queue. I find it's especially important when people either text or Facebook message me to either have them email me or to copy-paste their message and email myself.
Email it to Myself: I totally email myself reminders or cool links to get them into my queue.
Minding the Archives: I use the Gmail stars and flags to code things, I also have a folder tree, a few delivery rules set up. It's easy for me to search my archives and find exactly what I need if some previous info is requires to handle a new email task. But I should probably talk more about this system and some of my other email efficiencies in a future blog post. It's a huge topic!
Advance Planning: When I know I want to do something but not just yet, I'll build it into my Google Calendar. I love getting reminders along with whatever notes I've attached and being able to plan my sticky note lists with some insight from my calendar (more on that below).
Reminders: When a task comes due, I'll get a notification in my inbox, which then moves an item from list #2 back to list #1 making it higher priority. If I'm not quite ready yet though, I can either boomerang it in my Gmail or reschedule on my calendar.
Recurring Tasks: I love recurring calendar items. Some things I need to make sure I do every week or every month on the same day, like pay bills (ugh!) or do specific tasks for a client. Being able to put those things into my calendar once and have them automate on whatever schedule I need is super helpful. I'll also use the recurring feature to block out times in my day when I'm on a tight writing deadline and then remind me of the promise I made to myself and my editor to get ‘er done.
Planning Today, Tomorrow, and the Next Day: I have big lined stickies to use for my daily task lists. These are the things I want to make sure I accomplish no matter what and are actually even more important than email (unless something major and unexpected comes up with a client). The more ambitious my sticky list for the day, the more I end up using my Boomerang to clear out my inbox. On light work days, I'll track back and spend extra time on those types of items. I found this cute rhino organizer in Target's clearance department, and nabbed this guy right up! He holds my sticky lists and keeps them in order. This allows me to easily plan for three days at a time, each day gets its own sticky–but never two stickies, because that ends up being more than I can accomplish in a single day.
Updating the Stickies: The very last thing I do each day before logging off is go over my email inbox, my Google calendar, and my stickies and think about what I'd like to accomplish tomorrow. I then complete my sticky for tomorrow and place it on the righthand upper corner of my desk next to a pen, so that when I log on tomorrow, I can go forward with focus and purpose.
Getting High off Stickies: Crossing off items and crumpling completed stickies is like a drug to me. Ahhh, refreshing!
This Week: See my journal peeking out behind the sticky rhino (it doesn't actually go there, it goes inside the decorative box that holds my office supplies)? Each week gets a page in the journal. One journal page equals seven stickies, though it doesn't generally have the same level of detail. Each weekend, I'll update my journal with items I want to accomplish over the course of the week, then I will dole them out onto my stickies as I go. If client requests or other unexpected obligations come up, some journal items may be pushed back a week in order to make time for more pressing work. Journal items are usually huge, high level tasks that I will then break down into several benchmark tasks within my stickies. For example, Design website in the journal will become the following task series on my stickies: Create homepage draft, finalize homepage with client, create main page drafts, finalize main page drafts with clients, create and finalize book page template, finish subpages, test for mobile optimization, finalize website design, complete live training with the client.
I recently picked up the best board ever. It's a dry erase weekly calendar that is also magnetic and has a cork board strip along the bottom. I use the board to write in my meetings and other physical or time-sensitive tasks. This helps my husband know when I need the house to be quiet and the toddler to be engaged so I can focus on a phone conference. I'll also write in household chores, because they're out of place on my work stickies. As a meeting or task is accomplished, I simply erase it. I'll use one color for this week and another for next week, so on Thursday of this week, I may have tasks written in for Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week. Color-coding keeps things easy and up-to-date!
The Wall Calendar: I have a wall calendar but am not really using it for anything other than to make me feel happy when I look at the goofy space cats. If/ when I start using it regularly, I'll let you guys know what for!
Outlines: I also make to do lists for my writing, AKA detailed plot outlines. No pantsing for me!
List-ception: I totally build lists within lists. I may email myself a to do list and then reply with updated lists as I complete and remove items. I also make recurring list reminders with my Google calendar to help address daily or weekly tasks. Lists within lists are obviously the height of organizational fashion!
How do you stay organized? Are you planning to try any of the methods outlined in this post? Let me know in the comments below!