There’s no easy answer for this — read a million different articles on the topic and you’re likely to come up with a million different approaches. Many of these will be variations of one another, but the process of creating a to-do list is very personal, as it reflects the way that we as individuals like to get things done.
But, be it flowchart, checklist, sticky notes or timeline, there are some fundamental principles that can help guide you to a method that will work best for YOU.
The first thing I’d do to put together a REALLY GOOD checklist is to just make a dump of the things I’d like to do that are in my head and get them down somewhere. It could be on a spare piece of paper, it could be in a blank file as you type away on your computer — just get it all down somewhere.
Here’s an example of one of my smaller data dumps:
101 Goals for 2009
Start drawing Fish & Chimps comics again
Go to the CN Tower
Take a tour of Casa Loma
Pay off at least two debts
Totally clean up the iPod – get rid of unwanted songs, add lyrics and album art
Take in broken electronics for repair
Sell off unwanted books and other items
Now, for the record:
- I never made it to 101 items — important lesson; NEVER try to list a certain number of items for listing’s sake as the Internet is often wont for you to do with its memes; it’s more important that you get everything out of your head by writing as much as possible than it is to fill a quota
- Out of this list, I only managed to clean up the iPod; many of the other items are still in progress
Once you’ve gotten all the raw information out of your head, then you can start to refine it. You can ask questions like:
WHAT do I have to accomplish?
This is an important question, as it will help to mould the shape of your to-do list. If it’s a simple list of tasks, a checklist might do…
…whereas if it’s something ever-developing where you’re constantly adding new ideas to come to a better idea of what it is that you’re trying to create, perhaps the use of a mind map is in order:
WHY is it important to me?
You should ask this of each and every item on every list you do. Yesterday’s post touched on this, but I CANNOT stress it enough — if you don’t have a good reason to be doing it, forget about it. Skip it. Get it off of your list and pretend that it never existed. These lists can really get out of hand if you let them, so nip them in the bud from early on and don’t let them take control of you!
WHEN can I do it?
If you end up with a whole heap of to-do items, perhaps you can put them in categories. Categorize them any way you like — by priority, by the season when they can get done, where you physically need to be to accomplish them… there’s so much flexibility to being able to map out the things you want to accomplish. I use a combination of mind maps to flesh out my ideas and timelines in order to figure out how much time I want to invest into getting things done.
But a carpenter with no tools is just a person with a dream. You can want to make complex lists all you want, but sometimes we all need a little help to go in the right direction. Some of the tools I use are:
- Google Docs — storage of Microsoft Office-like apps “in the cloud” so that I can access the documents I put together from any computer as long as I log in
- FreeMind — an open-source mind mapping tool, which I use to really flesh out the more complex ideas that I work on in a visual format; it’s also cool that it exports to a whole heap of formats to share with others
- Moleskine notebook — notebooks do NOT survive me well. The number of coil notebooks that fall apart after being lugged around by me is a vast amount. So I need something sturdy (and somewhat pretentious) to capture my thoughts — Moleskine does the trick with a variety of books catered to different needs of artists, writers, musicians, etc.
- Notepad++ if I’m on a Windows computer or TextWrangler/xPad when I’m on my Mac — having one text file open at a time is lame. If you want to be REALLY productive, take a bunch of text files open so you can see what’s duplicated, what’s still relevant and what you may have forgotten! And if you like to dabble in code, text editors that colour code according to the language you’re using are ALWAYS a bonus. (Though I will admit that I haven’t found anything yet on the Mac that could give Notepad++ a run for its money.)
So if that doesn’t help to give you some ideas of where to start with your to-do list, I don’t know what will.
Good luck one and all, and happy listing!
–Casey E. Palmer