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18 February 2009 @ 03:40 pm
Big to-do  
Word count: 2884 | Since last entry: 557

To-do list management is always an issue around here, as I suspect it is for most people. Even the professional organizer we work with has admitted she has problems keeping up with her many things to do.

One of the biggest problems I have with to-do lists is that if you keep your list online, in any form, it tends to silt up with unloved items (things that you really want to have done, but just can't be bothered to do). On the other hand, if you keep your list on paper, it becomes messy, or it isn't there when you need it, or you have to recopy it, and things get lost.

I have used a variety of different techniques over the years. One of my favorites is to keep the list on paper and recopy it to a new sheet every day. This gives me a daily opportunity to reprioritize, including dropping items that I'm sick of copying over and over and realize I'm never going to do. But this technique becomes unweildly when the list gets too long.

The list of things I wanted to do right away when we got back from Germany was huge, and I spent much of January unsuccessfully battling it. It was so big that I was actually stymied sometimes -- so unable to decide what to do that I did nothing.

In the last week of January I hit upon a way to break this list paralysis. I printed out the list and numbered each item, 0 to 68. These numbers were arbitrary, not in priority order. Then I rolled percentile dice to determine what to do next. There was no cheating allowed -- once I had rolled an item, I couldn't do anything else until I did it. If I rolled a number greater than 68, something I had already done, or something that was impossible at the moment, I rolled again.

Sometimes I rolled a number and, staring at the task, realized that the task simply wasn't worth the effort it would take to do, and never would be, so I scratched it off. That counts. Sometimes I would notice other items that would dovetail well with the selected item (e.g. running several errands on the same side of town) and do those too.

This technique worked well. In a week I scratched off 41 of the 69 items, and made some kind of progress on several more. Some of the crossed-off items were perennials, like washing the dishes, but it still provided positive feedback to see the list getting shorter.

An important part of the technique was having one physical piece of paper that only ever got tasks crossed off, never added. New tasks that arose during the week were added to the online version of the list for future attention. Anything more urgent than that would be done immediately.

Well, between our trip to Chattanooga and the following trip to Radcon just a few days later, my list got huge again, so I'm going to use the same technique between now and Potlatch. The list has 93 items this time, and several of them have hard deadlines so I'm going to have to find some balance between "do something that's urgent" and "roll dice to do something you might otherwise put off." Wish me luck.

16. Blog about to-do list

joycemochajoycemocha on February 18th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
At one point (when my son was young and I had volunteer stuff, jewelry marketing stuff, freelance writing stuff and freelance clerical stuff going on), I kept a Dayrunner going with elaborate to-do lists which had monthly, weekly and daily lists. I had the To Do This Week list and transfered things to the daily list as needed.

These days, my life is much more complex but somehow I manage to juggle it all at work with a regular calendar. My teacher planning calendar covers all my schedules, I have an IEP scheduling notebook, a Meeting Notice notebook, and a small paper pocket calendar in my purse. I tried using a Palm for a while but the battery always ran down too dang fast. Multiple calendars in places where I have to coordinate seem to work best.

Now I do lag in scheduling medical appointments (sigh), at least during the school year, but that's a function of managing to have enough time to go on hold for long enough without having to put out fires (my phone and my computer are at opposite ends of my room and my cell phone only works in the room when the stars are right).

Oddly enough, I have a calendar function built into my school computer (Lotus Notes) but it's proven to be more difficult to manage than my paper calendars are.
Amy Sissonamysisson on February 18th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Are you willing to share the kinds of things that you just decide will never be worth the effort? I like this idea, but it seems to me that the big mental temptation would be to cross something like that off the list only to sneak it back on later. Just curious....
David D. Levinedavidlevine on February 19th, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)
Here are the ones I crossed off of January's list without doing: buy timer for heated towel rack (decided it was easy enough to just turn it on in the evening and off in the morning), add a certain person's contact information to my Palm (she dropped out of our book group before I got around to it), and have lunch with a visiting friend while she was in town (we couldn't find a time we could both make it).
Amy Sissonamysisson on February 19th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
OK, this is my bias showing, and for that I apologize in advance.... but please put the timer back on the list? Do you really want to use electricity all night for something that probably needs only 10-15 minutes in the morning?

Pretty please? ;-)

But thanks for sharing -- and I shouldn't criticize when you were willing to share. It's just that I live in Texas.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on February 19th, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
Oh, all right. For you, it goes back on the list.
scarlettinascarlettina on February 19th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC)
I second the request because, you know, I'm like that.
Amy Sissonamysisson on February 19th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
Seeing as I'm being all pushy and stuff, any chance that getting "Tale of the Golden Eagle" onto Anthology Builder is on that list of things to do? ;-)

I promise that's the last thing I'll ask of you all year!
David D. Levinedavidlevine on February 19th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Yep! It is item #75. And this is why I need to use this random number technique every once in a while, because it always fell below the cut line when I prioritized tasks.
csinman on February 18th, 2009 11:55 pm (UTC)
That's an awesome idea! It turns boring chores into a game.

...I cast magic missile at the pile of dirty dishes!
David D. Levinedavidlevine on February 19th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap, the job's a game!
csinman on February 19th, 2009 10:10 am (UTC)
Once I did this, which was pretty fun! I should find a way to adapt it for a To Do list.
(Deleted comment)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on February 19th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
It may be that rysmiel has the right of it. After all, does one really want to take life advice from a Disney musical, even one based on a classic book?

I need more dancing animated penguins in my life.
The NewroticGirlnewroticgirl on February 19th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
Okay, I think this is the coolest idea for a to-do list ever!!
(Deleted comment)
scarlettinascarlettina on February 19th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
That's way more fun than my method, which harks back to my Franklin Planner training:

1) Take quiet time in the morning.
2) Start your to do list with "Planning and meditation."
3) Review yesterday's items for those undone and transfer them to today's list.
4) Review meetings scheduled for today and the next few days to refresh your memory about projects and deadlines. Add any related tasks to list.
5) Add new items as necessary throughout the day.
6) Prioritize your list by major and minor priority.
7) Check off "Planning and meditation," and begin your tasks.

It's not as fun as your method, but I will admit that when I start the day with a task list, I get way more accomplished than just winging it. Unfortunately, sometimes attractive invitations (like today's from e_bourne to go dog-walking in Lincoln Park) foil my well-made plans. But, hey, there's always tomorrow. ::grin::

Edited at 2009-02-19 01:57 am (UTC)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on February 19th, 2009 05:25 am (UTC)
That's a good system, and one I've used in the past. The random number generator technique is designed to attack a flaw in that system, which is that tasks of low priority (which are nonetheless important enough to stay on the list) never get done at all. Right now I have enough low-priority tasks built up that I need to do something about them or they overwhelm me.
scarlettina: Everything Easierscarlettina on February 19th, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)
Yeah, the low-prio items do get pushed off. Sometimes I promote them so they get done. Other times I look at them and ask myself if they're really all that important. If not, I leave them for Spanky or Merlin. If Merlin can unmake a neatly made bed, surely he can take care of other things for me. :-)
e_bournee_bourne on February 19th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
I am in awe of all of you. You are all amazing people. I live on dog time. I can't even think how. . .oh look walkies.

Erin Cashiertherinth on February 21st, 2009 07:34 am (UTC)
Gmail has a tasks thing you can add to it...i love it for making lists, and the satisfaction of striking through them. I like the dice game method for getting through them tho!
opalmirroropalmirror on February 21st, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
This is a very cool topic. I have borrowed and adapted some concepts from Franklin-Covey... I keep an actual written notebook. I write the date at the top of each page, and notes on the body. When something looks like a to-do I draw a box to it in the left column like this:

[ ] Take out the trash

When I start it or attempt it I put a '.' in the middle of the box. When I abandon the task I draw a line through the whole thing and scribble a note in the margin explaining why it became irrelevant. When I copy it forward to a better organized list, I put an arrow '->' in the box to say it moved forward. When I complete it I put an 'X' in the box.

Typically, lower-priority stuff gets either a line drawn through it, or I carry it forward enough times that I decide I'm annoyed with it enough that it gets done and I can X it off, or I can subdivide it into several tasks that seem less overwhelming. This is a combination of annoyance, attrition, and division to get those tasks underway.

The written nature is important because I can scribble it down faster than having to go to an app in my smartphone or be near a computer.