Let’s talk lists, but don’t for one second go on believing that my house and my life are finely tuned or well-oiled.
I told you I read a book years ago by David Allen called Getting Things Done. Great read, highly recommend, and I’ve giving him credit right up front for most of what’s to follow in this post.
He says this: we’re stressed because we have too many ideas and to-dos that we haven’t “captured.” Those vague notions of “should” and “don’t forget” float untethered in our brain, and because we haven’t bothered to write them down, we’re constantly worried that we’re forgetting something.
I see two problems.
Problem 1: System failure.
Problem 2: User failure.
(Note: this blogpost only deals with problem 1.)
You might already be a list maker, but maybe you’re like I once was. I wrote and rewrote lists, and the same to-dos kept getting ignored. Or, like my life presently, your life is getting more and more complicated, and you need a better system for handling A LOT of details. The calendar squares simply don’t cut it anymore.
OK. Here’s where to start, and I know this sounds overwhelming. But change always feels that way at first, doesn’t it?
1. First, don’t write ANYTHING on your calendar that isn’t time sensitive. Got it? Don’t write, “Dry Cleaners” on today’s calendar square if you’re thinking you might be putting that off till next Monday. Write only the appointments and commitments you have TODAY. What this does is make your calendar RELIABLE, and if your calendar is reliable, you’ll trust it. If, however, you clog it up with a bunch of half-hearted, “Maybe I’ll try to fit this in today,” you’ll ignore your calendar altogether and forget the really important stuff. The key is to create for yourself systems that you trust. When you trust your systems, you can give your brain a little time-off.
2. Decide where you’re going to “collect” your to-dos. You need lists for all the things you need to do which aren’t time-sensitive, and you need to figure out where to keep those lists. Do you like pen and paper? Buy a simple spiral notebook. Are you a smartphone kind of person? I’ll show you my MOST FAVORITE APP tomorrow. Or maybe you sit at your computer all day, and can keep a list open on your desktop. Whatever you decide, you need to have it WITH you for the majority of the day. If you like pen and paper (which I do generally), but find you’re always forgetting your notebook somewhere, you might need to make a change. I fought going electronic because I really loved having a planner, but I needed something more portable. Now I love having ALL my lists on my iPhone.
The point is, if you don’t have your lists with you when you suddenly think, “I need to call Grandma,” you’ll file that thought away somewhere in your foggy brain, and it’s not resurfacing again anytime soon. And you know what happens next. STRESS.
CAPTURE it, and FORGET about it. . .until later. (P.S., that means you need to write it down. Review problem #2 above.)
3. Rethink what a “project” is, and organize your lists according to projects. This is a GTD trick (shorthand for those of us in the David Allen fan club). According to David Allan, anything with three or more to-dos is a “project.” I’ll show you what I mean. But first, you’re going to need a “today” list, a “next” list, and a “someday” list.
First, you need a list for today‘s projects. And NOTHING goes on this list except the things you’re ABSOLUTELY committed to doing. (Don’t forget, if you write something down that you’re not REALLY committed to, you will find every reason NOT to look at your list. And if you don’t look at your list, you probably won’t do it. Nothing magical about writing it down, folks. You’ve also got to LOOK AT THE LIST.)
Second, you need a list for projects that are “next.” These are the, don’t-have-to-do today kinds of things, but hey, maybe that third cup of coffee kicks in some afternoon, and you’re through with your “today” list. That’s when you look to your “next” list. Currently on my next list: chore chart for the kids, check out ski hills, church membership form, sew basket liners with Audrey, etc.
You also need a list for projects that are “someday.” (Ooo, I love this list. This is where I write down the random vacation spot I’ve heard about or a restaurant I want to try or a website I want to check out. Not urgent enough even to make it to “next.” But I’ll be glad to have written it down because someday I’m going to think, “Where was that horseback riding place that Lynne told me about?” and I’m going to look at my “someday” list and see, “Oh yeah, Cedar Creek Ranch!”)
Finally, you need a whole assortment of lists for your various ongoing “projects.” Remember, a project is anything that is three or more to-dos. Projects are big, small, and in-between. Planning a birthday party? That’s a project. Writing a book? Project. Managing your kids’ clothes? Project. Projects are fluid, and as soon as you finish them, you can delete the list entirely or tear that page out of your binder. Oh, what accomplishment! The to-dos that show up on your project list are eventually moved to either “today” or “next.” Think of your project lists as all the things you currently have going and are responsible for. If you can’t really think of what “projects” you have ongoing, start by considering all the different roles you play, all the different hats you wear. That might help.
Here are the project lists I’m currently keeping:
Meals (Dinners I plan to make.)
Blog (Ideas for posts.)
Read (Books I’ve had recommended to me and want to read)
States (Things I need to do when we’re back in the States)
Children’s Ministry (Stuff to help with the church here)
Moms’ Group (Bible Study I help lead here)
Class Rep (Yep, I overcommitted again.)
House (Elmhurst): (Projects, decorating ideas, repairs)
Gifts (What I’ve already bought or intend to)
Ryan (Talk to him about . . .)
Waiting for (Emails, phone calls, packages that I’m expecting and need to act on)
Email/Call/Letter (All the people I want to remember to connect with)
Clothing (Things to shop for.)
Now I’ve got a space for just about every idea that pops into my brain. Any anything that doesn’t neatly fit into a “project” list can also go directly into my “today,” “next” or “someday” list.
Now, you’ve got some homework. Go do a big BRAIN dump and figure out what your ongoing projects are. Collect all those squirmy ideas in your brain. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about my favorite app that makes managing my lists SO EASY. (But no, it doesn’t solve Problem 2. See above.)