Task (or To Do) Lists | Giftie Etcetera: Task (or To Do) Lists

Monday, September 7, 2009

Task (or To Do) Lists

For Stacy. ;)

I bet since paper, pen, and mom's existed, there were "to do" lists. Even though I have a great system for my Tasks list (that I'll share below), I still use pencil and paper to make a quick list of things I'm going to do for a specific situation. For a birthday party, for example, I might make a list the day before the party of all the things that are still undone (ie. get chairs out of the closet and set up). Lists keep you from having to think. That's always nice.

If you are a pen and paper person, I strongly recommend a Master Task List and a weekly (or daily) task list, stored with your calendar. Everything gets dumped on the Master list (with a due date to the left side, if there is a due date). If something can ONLY be done ON a specific date, it is more appropriate for a calendar than a Master list. When you transfer to the Weekly list, you scratch out what is on the Master list. If the Master list is just a bunch of scratch-outs, it's time to recopy it. What a pain!

That's why I use my PDA for my Task List. Here's my top-secret, extra yummy, how-to-kick-butt-at-maintaining-a-to-list secret formula, with chocolate sprinkles on top.

First, you need to recgonize that there are things that NEVER make my Task List. If something is an appointment or can only be done on a certain date, it goes on the Calendar. For example, if I am invited to a Labor Day Bar-be-que and I am bringing the ice and brownies, my calendar shows "11 a.m. Dawn's Bar-be-que" and a note is attached to the calendar for me to bring brownies and ice. Since I CAN make the brownies (but not the ice) ahead of time, my Task List will have an entry, "make brownies", due by Labor Day (and Priority 2 and in the Home category, but I'll discuss that later ;)).

Also, I keep a legal pad at my office (and in my tote for the coffee shop and at home if I'm working from the house). If a task is to be done today, it just gets jotted on the legal pad and scratched through as I do it. Only the things not scratched out at the end of the day go on the Task List. For example, let's assume I am at the office. I might have client meetings or court. And I will need to do (or assign a new due date to) everything due today and tomorrow on my Task List. In the meantime, Rachel requests that I review and sign two letters, but as she does, a client walks in. I jot "sign letters" on the legal pad, since I can't do it right away, but will do it today. The client notes that he needs to know how much it is going to cost to serve the lawsuit. I don't check during the meeting, but jot "check lawsuit filing fees and e-mail John" on the legal pad. After the client leaves, I get up to get coffee and realize I need to assign Rachel to order cups for people visiting the office. "R - order cups" gets jotted down and then I make my coffee. Notice I don't have to stop what I am doing to deal with my Task list. At the same time, it is critical that, at the end of the day, all undone jotted to dos get put on the Task list, or this system won't work. Also, take note that if something can be done IMMEDIATELY, I don't write it down. I just do it.

Another thing that does not go on the Task List is anything routine but not especially critical. We have tons of routines. We have a routine for getting ready in the morning, that includes put diaper bag in car and make coffee. But those things do not go on the Task List. If the routine is new, it might go on the Calendar until I learn to do it (if it is really important, like taking daily medications). If many of us need to follow it (like our morning routine), the steps might be posted until we learn it. But routines, like cleaning, are not Tasks. Of course, if there is special, nonroutine cleaning, that goes on the Task List. Routines are otherwise better dealt with as a separate plan, perhaps with a calendar entry to remind you "Daily Cleaning." However, even though paying the bills and refilling the meds is routine, it needs to go on the Task List, because not having meds is bad.

So what makes the Task List cut? Pretty much everything else! Since I use a pda (and the same can be done in Outlook, I think), I can categorize things in a way that works for me. This system sounds complicated, but it works well.

First, my Task List includes two kinds of entries: to dos and projects (otherwise known as multistep to dos). Projects are my secret to keeping my Task List managable. If any to do takes two or more steps, it's a project entry. For example, one entry might be, "pick up dry cleaning." There might be a note attached, if I used a different dry cleaner because of a coupon and need directions, but likely directions are in the "Yellow Pages" section of my Contacts and not necessary. However, if I need to do all the dry cleaning by the time Alan starts his new job on Thursday, it becomes a project because there are several steps. To differentiate projects from basic to dos, to dos all start with a verb (ie. pick up) whiel a project would just have a descriptive title (is. dry cleaning). Attached is a note with due dates:

ENTRY: Priority 1 - Dry Cleaning - 09/08/09 - Category Errands
-gather all dry cleaning at home (don't forget blue suit in laundry room)
-download coupon from website for one-day overnight cleaning for blue suit
-drop off dry cleaning by 5 p.m.
@09/09: pick up blue suit
@Alan: pick up rest of dry cleaning (that I didn't have a special overnight coupon for)

Once I do the stuff listed due 09/08/09, I'll erase those things from the note and change the due date of the task to 09/09/09. Had I listed all the steps, I would have five things on my Task List and it would have looked overwhelming, especially since I can't do many of the steps until other steps are completed.

Now, I want to take about each aspect of the above entry. It doesn't matter if the Task is a to do or a project, it gets a Priority, Due Date, and Category, as well as an @ if it cannot be done until something else is done.

I sort my Task List by Due Date then Priority. Due dates are set realistically, giving me a little cushion (when possible) but not too much. For example, a birthday gift purchase might be due the day before the party. Things I just "might" want to do don't get a due date, so they naturally fall to the bottom of the list.

Priorities are as follows:

1 - MUST do. Paying mortgage is a 1. These are the things that, if you are in a coma, someone else will need to do for you. So, peeps, if I go in a coma, please have someone take care of the 1s for me. ;)
2 - Do. Most things fall in this priority level.
3 - Might do. For example, I might renew my library card, if I actually find myself using it, by January 2012. I might send a thank you note to my friend for letting me crash at her place, but if I don't, it's no biggie.
4 - Pending. All of these entries start with @, like @Alan (meaning after Alan takes care fo his part) or @09/13/09 (meaning cannot do it before that date)
5 - Maybe/Someday. For all those dreams. These usually have no date.

Categories are divided by where I can accomplish them. Anywhere (the biggest category), Home, Work, Errands, Target...you get the idea. That way, if I am at the office, I can make sure to take care of all the office stuff that is due.

I use my Task List everyday, checking it in the morning and updating it in the afternoon. That is the real key.

Okay, Stacy, questions? :)



Misty said...

wow. my head hurts. i was so proud of myself because i just bought a planner for the first time since 1996. :-)

Mathochist said...

Thank you so much!!! You rock with chocolate sprinkles on top!!! That was clear as a bell, and I think I will be able to adapt it to fit me. The only question I have is only slightly related (IF you are still using the Centro...) how often do use the computer software, vs how often do you just type stuff straight into your PDA. Okay, two questions - are you using the Palm factory software, or did you find something better?

My poor all-or-nothing brain never could reconcile still having a daily to-do list on paper when I switched to the PDA 5 years ago. But it does make a lot more sense!

"if something can be done IMMEDIATELY, I don't write it down. I just do it." That, there, is a good habit to have. I am still working on it. But it's hard when you forget halfway through one task what you were doing, because you've been distracted by 3 others! LOL!

Giftie Etcetera said...

Stac - I use Palm desktop software. Since my laptop is on my desk at work or my counter at home, I enter almost everything on my computer. That said, I always sync my pda and computer on turn-on and turn-off, for the times on the road when I enter on my pda. I use the Palm factory software.

Another trick (but this uses paper) that I used at my old law firm was to print today and tomorrow's Task List on a sheet of paper in the morning, use that instead of the notepad I mentioned to jot and cross out, and just reconcile the sheet to my pda at the end of the day. But with my laptop so handy, I really don't have to do that anymore.

Brien Louque said...

I do have to admit, I prefer using the task list in Outlook to my phone - it'll sync up with my phone, but having it in Outlook also allows me to assign tasks to others and still be able to track it (if they update percentage complete, I see it in my task list). And Stacy, whenever I'm working on something and I get interrupted, I try to write it down on my queue list (just some scratch piece of paper that I jot down quick stuff that needs to be done) so I can pick back up after the emergency is over - if I didn't do that, I would just forget about it.

Mathochist said...

Kristy, I used to use that trick all the time when I was working. Might have to try it again!

Brien, what phone/organizer do you use? Is it Palm OS as well? I have a Treo 755p through Verizon. Got that free as an upgrade when I renewed my contract. Jeff has my old Treo 650. I am drooling over a Pre, but not enough to pay $ for a phone when the one I have works perfectly well (not to mention the hassle of having to switch carriers...)

Mathochist said...

forgot a couple of things I wanted to say...

I used to use Outlook but when I got this new computer earlier this year, didn't install it. It's a very old version (2000) and I thought I'd try to use the Palm software first and see if I could get away with not installing MS stuff. I am still undecided on the issue. I really miss the Outlook email.

Kristy, I also wanted to ask - do you use alarms for any of your tasks?

Giftie Etcetera said...

I don't use alarms. Since I check my to do list and calendar daily, there is no need.

Brien Louque said...

Stacy, I've got an iPhone - probably the best thing about it right now is that it updates my calendar and task list over the air so if somebody schedules a meeting while I'm in a meeting my calendar will automatically get updated. Of course, it would be so much better if that was not needed. *grin*

Mathochist said...

Hah! I knew you were going to say that, Kristy!

I switched to your method of organizing tasks by where they could be done. It was painfully difficult for me - my brain *really* wants to categorize them by what preverbial hat I'm wearing when I'm doing them - personal, mommy, wife, photograper, etc. But after my initial aversion, I think this way will actually work much better. If I ever get a moment to work on something, I don't have to *think* about which hat to put on - I just look at the category that corresponds to where I am. Or, since I'm usually at home, I can look at the date to see what's due soonest.

Brien, I am a little surprised. I wouldn't have thought you were the iPhone type... Do you like it? I peeked at Julie's while we were in TX and I wasn't impressed. And yeah, that would suck to get out of a meeting, only to find I'd been scheduled for another meeting!