Thursday, May 22, 2008

An Organizer Updates Her To-Do List

five computer files on a computer desktop

Here are two things I often tell my clients:

1. Any system you put in place will probably need to be tweaked as you find out what works and what doesn't work.

2. When looking for solutions, look at things that are working well for you already. What does that tell you about the type of solutions that work for you?

Well, I just followed my own advice and changed how I keep my to-do lists. I had been using a fairly simple software tool called Check Off - but realized it didn't fit well with how I work, so I was getting sloppy about getting everything added to my lists that needed to be there.

I was somewhat tempted to try another one of the many software programs designed to handle task management. But then I looked at something that works very well for me - and that's a simple text file that resides on my computer desktop where I capture blog ideas. I definitely like having my files on the computer, and the simplicity of a text file seems to work well for me. (I'm on a Mac, and I just use TextEdit for these files; Word would be overkill.)

So now I have five simple text files on my desktop - some of which will be familiar to anyone familiar with David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Goals & Values
This reminds me of the big picture - what I want from my life. It won't get updated often, but it's useful to look at it regularly.

To Do
This lists all the simple actions I want to take: send an e-mail to someone, reschedule an appointment, drop off donations at the thrift store, etc. The list is subdivided into things I would do at home, things I would do around town, and things I would do "over the hill" - I live on the coast, and have to drive over the hill to get to the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area.

This lists the things I'm committed to doing that involve multiple steps. It includes things like buying new nightstands (because I don't know exactly what I want, so there are many steps here) and a computer upgrade project with a number of steps. The next step for each of these projects would get added to my To Do list.

Why separate To Do items from Projects? Because a To Do list with "buy milk" and "remodel bathroom" almost guarantees that the remodeling project won't move forward. You look at that item, glaze over, and move on to the next item on the list. But if the To Do list had something like "Call Jim and ask about his remodeling project; see what advice he can give me" - well, that seems doable!

This file captures the ideas I have about things I might want to do - but might not. This way I don't lose the thought, but it doesn't clutter up my To Do or Projects list.

Daily Routines
This has my morning and bedtime routines - things I do (or want to start doing) every day. It's there as a reminder, because I've added some things that aren't habits yet. I may not need these files after a while, but for now they are helpful.

I'm sure I'll wind up making further tweaks, but right now this is feeling pretty good.

[Side note: That black loop in the picture is part of a dragon's tail, from the Dragonology 4 wallpaper by Vladstudio.]


SueBK said...

I do like this concept. I use Agendus, on my desktop and PDA and I love it. But, right now I have a new ... challenge. I've been debated with myself the best way to go about it; and its like you've given me "permission" to be different to my normal system.

Today (finally!) after 6 1/2 years I submitted the final assignment of my undergrad. I have 2 exams and 20 days to go before I'm finally, completely FINISHED. After 6 1/2 years of juggling raising a family, working and studying I have a list of projects, not quite a mile long, but getting pretty close (and getting longer all the time LOL).

You've helped me finally decide not to put the entire list in Agendus. How would I choose a due date? How would I see what really had to be attended to (like bills and work)?

Instead I'm going to create a separate file (in Excel, 'cause my database skills are sadly lacking). I will list all the things I want to do; whether they're indoor or outdoor and what general sort of project they are (gardening; office/computer; sewing; organising; painting/decorating etc). I might even put in a time; maybe not the total time in all cases, but a suitable block of time (I've got so much filing you could drown in it - I'm certainly not planning on doing it all at once).

I figure the advantage of this system - besides not clogging up my "important" to-do list - is that I say to myself "sunny day, 2 spare hours, feel like exercise" or "horrid weather, feeling lazy, got 20 mintues til I have to leave" - and pick an appropriate activity.

I've only got 6 months; 'cause I've promised to 'consider' going back to work full time at the end of the year. Maybe this way, I have half a hope of getting a percentage of my list completed.

Jeri Dansky said...

SueBK: First of all, congratulations! What an accomplishment!

I think the Excel spreadsheet sounds like a fine idea. Thanks for letting me know this blog post was helpful.

And you sound like David Allen when you write about selecting from your list of things to do, based on the amount of time you have, your energy level, etc. This is exactly what he recommends: having a group of lists that capture everything you want or need to do, lists that you review regularly - so you can pick what's right for the moment.

Michele said...

I second subk, this was a helpful post. I like to read how other people manage their time/projects/lists so I can see if what they do would work for me.

PS - I would love to read how you manage some of your home improvement projects, e.g. how you manage the project itself and how you manage the disruption to your space.

Jeri Dansky said...

Michele, the answer to your question about home improvement projects is mostly that I work with a very good contractor whose crews make sure they leave the house as livable as possible at all times.

The worst project was when one of the cats accidentally turned on the water in a bathroom sink (warning: lever-style handles are not a good thing when you have cats), and the sink stopper was pressed down from one of them curling up in the sink. I was gone many hours that day, and came home to quite the flood.

Yes, I still have the cats.

Anonymous said...

Jeri -

I enjoyed reading your post as I constantly struggle with organizational systems, too.


Jeri Dansky said...

You're very welcome, Anonymous!

SueBK said...

Maybe I need lever taps in the bathroom. LOL. Our cat refuses to drink still water unless its an absolute necessity (ie we go away for the weekend - even then I think she waits for us to get home). Whenever someone goes into the bathroom she races in and waits on the vanity for the tap to be turned on.

Maybe with lever taps she could work it out for herself. (Note to self - no leave in place plugs!) Of course, cats being cats and being very much like teenagers, she'd probably learn to turn it on and never turn it off again!

Jeri Dansky said...

SueBK, one of my cats just loves to drink from the tap in the shower. He'll jump in and wait for me to turn the water on for him. He'll drink from the bowl, too, fortunately.

It sounds like you could you one of these pet drinking fountains. Here's another brand.

Angelia said...

I've been using a white board and paper clipped together (I call it recyled paper but it's actually stuff that used on one side already, so I just flip it over).

Also wrote a vision board :)