JERI DANSKY professionalorganizer

December 2007 Newsletter

This month's focus: To-Do Lists


Tip of the Month: Creating Better To-Do Lists


How do you keep track of all the things you mean to do? Most of us use some sort of to-do list. But those lists can easily become overwhelming, taunting us with all that we haven't done. Here are some suggestions to make your lists more effective.


1. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, has a number of recommendations.


  • Don't combine big projects (remodel the bathroom) and simple tasks (take packages to post office). Instead, have a separate list for projects, and put the next action from a project (write to Janet to find out what contractor she used) on your to-do list.
  • For things you think you might want to do, but aren't committed to, have a separate someday/maybe list. With this list, you don't lose the thought - but you don't clutter up your to-do list, either.
  • Maintain a separate waiting for list - for keeping track of all those things where people need to get back to you. There's nothing for you to do right now - except to follow up if they don't get back to you.
  • If something must be done at a specific time, put it on your calendar, not on a to-do list.
  • Create separate to-do lists (or next action lists) for each context. While some tasks can be done anywhere, many of them require that you be in a specific place or have specific tools available. You might want lists for things you can only do at your computer, for example - or things you can only do at home, or in the office, or when you are out and about running errands.
  • Be sure you always have some way to capture those fleeting thoughts of things you need or want to do. Do NOT trust your memory; always carry a notepad or a voice recorder or some such tool, and then use that tool.

2. Mark Forster, author of Do It Tomorrow, has some different suggestions.


  • Work from a daily will-do list rather than a to-do list; the idea here is that you truly intend to get everything on the list done that day. The will-do list is actually a collection of other lists: daily tasks plus one-off tasks.
  • Make that daily list a closed list, where nothing new gets added during the day if at all possible; if something does need to get added, draw a line under the closed list part and write the new item under the line, making it abundantly clear that this was an unplanned task. In most cases, things that come up during the day can wait until tomorrow - thus the title of his book.

3. Alan Lakein, in How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, reminds us to consider the big picture. "I review my lifetime goals list every day and identify activities to do each day to further my goals."


4. Here's a suggestion from Debbie Stanley at Red Letter Day. If you never seem to get through your to-do list:

  • Write out your to-do list as you normally would.
  • Put the tasks in priority order, most important first.
  • Delete the bottom half of the list.


5. And everyone agrees: Pick the tools that suit you best. To-do lists can be paper lists or digital lists; in the digital realm, you could use a simple text file or one of many software tools for managing to-dos; you could use a PDA or not. Web Worker Daily has a nice summary of the many possible approaches.



Blog/Book of the Month: To-Do List



Curious about other people's to-do lists? See a wide assortment of to-do lists (and other lists) on the To-Do List blog - or in the new To-Do List book. Disclaimer: I haven't seen the book myself yet.

to do list on green paper; includes call cat psychic



First Organizing Quote of the Month: On Things Falling Off the To-Do List


Data shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be.


-- David Leonhardt, The New York Times



Second Organizing Quote of the Month: One Person's List Making Approach


I am a list writer. I do it by hand. Every day. Sometimes three or four times a day, if I’m feeling really overwhelmed. ... There is a discipline that comes with rewriting every morning. You know those things that you keep on your list forever but never get to? You face reality much sooner if you rewrite by hand. The repetition of rewriting something that will never happen starts to get to you. You leave it off.


-- Penelope Trunk



Highlights From My Blog in November


There were 23 entries in my organizing and de-cluttering blog in November. Some of the most popular entries were:


You can now sign up for daily e-mail updates from my blog; each day that I make an update, you'll get a message. Look in the upper right-hand corner of the blog for subscription information.



My Clutter Control Freak Postings


I also write for another blog, and my November postings included:



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