Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty much always going 90 miles an hour. I seldom slow down, and I always have a million irons in the fire. As I get older, I’m trying to really get a grasp on my daily life in order to take it a little easier on myself and eliminate as much stress from my life as possible. I hope that you’ll do the same because stress is really, really bad for you.
One thing that I’ve spent the last year or so working on is mastering my to-do list. One of the major productivity methods suggests that you write down every little thing that you need to do instead of just trying to remember things. It maintains that by not writing these things down, you force yourself to try to remember them wasting valuable brain space and increasing your stress levels. Once upon a time I was the person who never used a calendar or wrote out a grocery list…I did it all from memory. I shiver at that thought now!
Throughout this process, I’ve tried several different ways of organizing my life. I’ve used list software like Wunderlist. I’ve read pages and pages on processes like the Getting Things Done method. For a while, I used a combination of methods along with Wunderlist, and it actually worked pretty well for me. However, I soon fell off the wagon and quit using my newly developed system. I no longer had a grip on my days, and I didn’t have the desire to pick my old method back up. Then, I started using a little notepad to track my daily activities, and I felt in control again. Using this little notebook to keep track of what I need to do each day has made a profound difference in my productivity and stress level. Today, I’m going to tell you a little about my current productivity system and my beloved to-do notebook.
First, let’s talk about my requirements for a notebook of this type.
- Spiral Binding: I like my notebooks to be spiral bound so they stay open easily by themselves. I can’t stand when a book closes when I don’t want it to!
- Size & Weight: I carry this notebook with me at all times, so it needs to be lightweight and not too large. Most of the times I prefer something around a 5×7 size…it’s not too big and not too small and can easily slip in my purse.
- Paper: I do not like recycled paper. (I know, shame on me.) In theory I’d love recycled paper, but in most cases certain pens and highlighters will bleed through the paper and that can make a mess quickly! The pages must also be lined…it just makes sense!
- Cover: The book itself needs to be very durable since I’ll be using it daily for months at a time. Furthermore, I need it to be fun and cheery. This book is what motivates me to accomplish my daily tasks every day. A boring, plain book is simply not going to do that for me.
I’m pretty sure that you don’t know many other people who are so peculiar about a notebook. You should discuss daily planners with my friend, Amanda, if you think I’m crazy! Honestly, I’ve learned a ton about productivity and organization from her, so don’t judge!
So now that we’ve thoroughly discussed my qualifications for a to-do notebook, let’s talk about how I use it. I have a few different to-do list pages. I have daily to-dos and overall to-dos. (While I’m referring to them as to-dos all throughout this post, I don’t actually use that term in my notebook. That term is known to cause some anxiety itself. I haven’t settled on another name for them yet, but “to-do” is never written in my notebook.)
The overall to-dos are things that I need/want to do eventually but aren’t time sensitive. For example, cleaning out the pantry and selecting a new rug would be on this list. These items don’t have to be done today or tomorrow, but I do want to get around to them soon. It’s important to write these sorts of things down because otherwise they’re clogging up your brain space and can cause anxiety when you suddenly remember that you needed to do something like pick up the dry cleaning. Ideally, you would transfer items from this list on to the daily lists as time permitted. You should reference this list often to be sure you’re working towards the things you want to accomplish. Be sure to understand that this isn’t the place where miscellaneous tasks go to die…it’s more like the waiting room.
The meat of my to-do notebook is my daily to-do items. Each day I have a page where I write the day and date as a header. It’ll say, “Thursday, February 7th” on the top and that page will include everything that I need to accomplish on that day. One of the important things that I learned during my productivity research is to not write down big goals. Instead, your list should be full of smaller items that can be accomplished quickly. For example, your list wouldn’t include painting the bedroom. Instead, it would include taping the edges, picking a paint color, buying paint and supplies, covering furniture, etc. Nothing should go on your list that isn’t a specific action itself. Therefore, my daily lists contain items like sending a contract to a client, returning a phone call, etc. I put any and everything on there that I need to remember with the goal being to not retain any of that in my head. I even include calendar items there like “lunch with Sheila,” but that’s mainly for the satisfaction of marking it off after lunch.
The goal of this notebook is to keep me from forgetting important things, but it has so much more value than just that. It frees up my brain to focus on more important things than trying to remember what 17 things I had to do today. It also helps me to stay focused and productive. More importantly, it reminds me of just how hard I worked that day. I’m quite the workaholic and I struggle with guilt issues on a daily basis. When I wrap up a day with a full page of items crossed off, I can remind myself that I worked hard today and I deserve to take the evening off. I can remind myself that even though the day may have been chaotic, I still knocked it out of the park and got a lot accomplished. The value of this little notebook has surpassed what I ever thought possible, and while I may switch to another system eventually, this method knocks my socks off right now.
What system do you use to organize your to-do lists and stay productive? As you know, I’m very goal driven, so talking about productivity methods gets me excited! I’d love to hear about how you handle daily tasks…please share!