Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting it all done

I'm officially back from vacation which means I now have a backlog of tasks to complete in addition to the regular day to day items that always need to be done. I'm often asked about how I handle my workload, so I thought I'd share my process.

I've tried apps for my phone, online tasks programs and a fancy Franklin Covey planner. None of those systems worked for me. They might for you though, so if you are using one of these with success, that's great.

For me, I use a composition book. A regular notebook would work too, but I like that the pages of a composition book are hard to pull out. Everything goes in this book. Everything. Tasks to complete, notes from a workshop, random ideas that pop into my head. All of it.

Here's how it works. I always have one page that is dedicated to all the current tasks I need to work on. I cross these items off as they are done until they are all complete or the page gets too messy. If that happens, I copy over the incomplete tasks to a new page and fold over the old page. I never tear out a page just in case something gets missed. Folding the page is my visual indication that there is nothing active on that page and I can skip it. This makes it easier to find my list.

For the list, items are written down in their most broken down version. Here's an example for you. I need to buy a plane ticket for an upcoming conference, but I'll be reimbursed for the cost. So I could just write "buy plan ticket", but that's not really all I need to do. I need to buy the ticket, send the purchase info to the right person for my reimbursement, and send my flight info to the person coordinating transportation. So I write each of those steps down on my list.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, I like to cross items off the list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, so the more little lines across the page, the better I feel. Second, I often work in snippets of time. So I might be able to book my flight, but then have to run somewhere else before I can send my information to the right people. If I only have "buy ticket" on my list I either don't cross it off which can cause confusion later or cross it off and forget about the other associated tasks. Neither of those is a good outcome.

I keep everything else in my notebook as well. It's easy for me to take notes during a meeting in my book. When the meeting is done, I flip over to my task list and add in my new items from the meeting. Once I've got everything transferred, I can fold that page over. Easy.

Same thing goes for conference notes. At the end of a seminar or conference, I add "Type conference notes" to my task list. I keep all these in a handy file on my computer for later reference. Once the notes are typed, the pages get folded and the item gets crossed off my list.

Is this a perfect system? No. One time I left my notebook at a thrift store. It had my list of items I needed for my kids. There were several hours of panic until I tracked it down and had it back in my hot little hands. Of course, I've misplaced my cell phone a number of times, too. And my glasses...and my keys...this could be just a getting older issue.

Anyway, this is what works for me, but I'd love to hear how you keep all your tasks organized.


  1. I do something a little bit similar, but with an always open email message. It's not very ordered, but it also a collection of the To Do list as well as any thoughts, links, appointments, etc.

    There's even a (probably misspelled) quote I heard on an old episode of Dr Who that I don't want to forget: shally me gally me zoop. Love that, just waiting to say it loudly in public!

    I also love crossing stuff off the list and break the items down into little pieces!
    Marlene at On Writing and Riding

  2. When I'm really stressed I make lists like this so I can cross things off. There's such a sense of satisfaction to doing that. But usually I just keep a list in my head each morning. I find if I count the number of things to get done, I can remember it that way. Instead of remembering what I have to do, I remember there are three things. Then when I think 'three' the items come back to me.

    If there's something like a book or movie I want to get from the library or a key phrase to remember to add to my WIP, I text it to myself. Confession time: sometimes I text myself just to say hi.

  3. I can't get your pictures to load. :( Oh well. You described it well enough to picture it in my mind. I use a day planner and a notebook because the day planner doesn't have enough room. I go through a ton of notebooks in my house.


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