My Latest Lists

At work, I’ll periodically get this sinking feeling that I’m forgetting to do something.

Juggling Now, Soon, and In Two Months is hard for me – they don’t feel like they should be on the same list. Also, a list with 25 things on it, some huge and some small, can be kind of scary.

Pen and Paper by LucasTheExperience on Flickr
Pen and Paper by LucasTheExperience on Flickr

I’ve tried Checkvist and liked it, and I’ve tried Google Calendar Tasks, but the main problem with both is two-fold:  it doesn’t feel concrete to me when it’s electronic, and I can avoid the list by just not opening the list’s webpage.  Lifehacker has an interesting poll on the five best To-Do List Managers, and for them as for me, pen and paper won.

My latest strategy:

  1. Write down every task or project I can think of. I work on this for a day or so to ensure it’s as complete as possible.
  2. Estimate time per task. In the left margin, I write in the estimated minutes it will take.  This step eliminates a lot of “this list is scary!” for me.  “60 minutes of stats” is easier for me to tackle than “annoyingly time-consuming volunteer stats.”
  3. Rewrite the list in two columns: Longer Term and Shorter Term.  I fill in some details like due dates and collaborators in Longer Term.  I just make a plain bulleted list of the shorter-term projects (which are usually 60 minutes or less).  The process of rewriting it helps me internalize it.
  4. Circle my first four tasks. This way I can evaluate what my next priority is in a quick and ongoing way.
  5. Check them off when they’re done. It feels gooood.  🙂
  6. Keep my list in plain sight. The list lives just to the left of my computer.  It does not get put away, it does not travel, it does not get buried.  And it gets more and more crossed off until it’s done.

It’s not perfect.  I think they keys that make it work for me are that I sit down and really think about it in terms of minutes and that it’s always on my desk and in my face.

What makes a To-Do system work for you?

Notes From an Off Day

I have to say, being productive was extraordinarily difficult today.  It was just kind of an “off” day.

It was sort of disappointing.  Last week I was on and outrageously happy and nothing could stop me.  Today… I guess I felt like everything was stopping me.  A couple of emails I just didn’t know how to respond to felt like a huge derailment.  I also had a borderline bizarre phone conversation with someone who didn’t want to register his wife for our classes but did want to tell me all about his own parochial education and the Franciscan nuns who administered it.  And then a library patron decided it might be cute, welcome, or in some way complimentary to hit on me while I was walking by.  Not exactly exchanges that helped me get back on my A-game.

The day was still a success in the end.  My students were served, my teachers were supported, and my other projects were addressed.

The only reason anything got done today was because I’d made a plan and a rough schedule last week when I was feeling like a superstar.  Today I just blindly, doggedly followed it as best I could.  And it was all ok.

May I always remember to use my “on” days in part to prepare for the “off” days.

Acceptance vs. Control

I attended a Work/Life Balance training today.  Lots of interesting food for thought.  One of the points the presenter made was about finding a balance between accepting and controlling your workload.  

Facets discussed:

  • We all work with people, which means our day-to-day workload is going to shift:
    • email volume is largely out of our control;
    • meetings, phone calls, and personnel mini-crises happen;
  • It’s not realistic to check off everything from our daily, or even weekly check-lists;
  • Two unhealthy tendencies:
    1. perfectionism;
    2. multi-tasking.
  • Suggested Solutions:
    • Prioritize;
    • Organize;
    • Breathe, take a break;
    • Analyze how you’re spending your time so you can determine how to be more efficient.
My questions:
  • At what point do employees need to take some control?
  • At what point do employers need to address workload situations?
  • What happens when items both “important” and “urgent” get passed to next week’s to-do? 
    • What happens when this becomes a pattern rather than an anomaly?
  • Yes, perfectionism is unrealistic.  Where is a reasonable line of standards of excellence?
  • How can a person or organization reign in demands without damaging relationships?