Tidying my tasks for Fall

For me, there is a natural energy to Fall that inspires personal organization and reordering of priorities.  Maybe it is a remnant of the excited energy of getting back to school.  Maybe I get a whiff of new year’s inspiration as I think of apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah.  However it arrives, it is always welcome after the disorganized free-wheeling of summer activities (or lack thereof).

The fall energy gives me renewed hope that I can get everything done if only I organize myself properly.  Over the years, I have come to learn that this not exactly true – but I can certainly try to accomplish as much as possible and let the rest go.  For me, the best way to make sure I reach – or come close to – my goals is a task list of some sort.  If I don’t have a list of tasks broken down into manageable steps with deadlines, my head starts to swirl and I end up sitting on the couch feeling so overwhelmed that I can’t possibly do anything besides poke at the internet.

After many years of fighting this demon, I finally set up my first to do list in Gmail for work.  This was OK for awhile, but there was no color coding option, no reminders, and I had to open my e-mail to access it.  Bad news for productivity all around.  So I bounced around to a few more for work and/or home related tasks until I found Producteev.  The multiple work spaces allow for infinite numbers of different task lists, so there is room for both a work and home list.  I may add more as I see fit, but for now this system seems to be working.

How does it work for me?  Let’s take this blog post as an example.  I have a hard time posting regularly – I am either inspired with no time or I have time and simply forget to post or don’t know what to write about.  So I started by creating a repeating weekly task to come up with three topics.  Since Producteev has the ability to create subtasks (swoon!), I also created some steps to help me with this goal – I can check out any pictures that I have for tutorials or just to inspire a post, and I can scan my tasks for the last week to see if there is anything to write about.  Once I completed these two subtasks, I had three post ideas in a matter of minutes.  Voilà, half the battle is complete right there.

Of course, the real goal is to get a post written.  So I created three more weekly tasks due Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to remind me to actually write on these topics.  So here I am, writing away.  If I get distracted by the baby/the UPS man/ cats/tv/?, I will be reminded to return later because I have not yet checked the post off my task list.  The key here is that I don’t have to rely on my mind to keep these details straight – that is the task of the task list!

With the task list busy keeping all of these details and reminders for me, my mind is left to focus on one thing at a time.  No more getting distracted and wandering off to half-finish something else.  if I have a pressing to-do pop in my head, I can quickly add it to the list and continue what I am presently doing.  For me, that is as close to a still mind as I can get sometimes!  I also feel great because I’m actually accomplishing my goals instead of staying stressed out all the time.

How can you set up your own list to work for you?  There is no easy answer, since the productivity process depends on the individual.  There are some basics, though:

  1. Find a good task management program.  A few must-haves for me: iPhone, Gmail, and web apps/gadgets so I can update from anywhere, tags (so you can keep track of tasks for different goals), and the ability to have more than one to do list.  Repeatable tasks are also key.
  2. Try it out!  Add three tasks that you want to accomplish today.  Add them to the task list, assign labels if you want (bonus for color coordinating related labels), and get tasking.  Come back and check off the tasks when you are done.  Was the process of creating and checking off a task easy?  If not, find a new task manager.  If so, bingo!  You are well on your way to productivity.
  3. Add repeatable tasks.  Watering plants every other day is something I always forget, so I added it to my list and set it to repeat every other day.  I also like to add seasonal tasks (like fall yard beautification) that repeat yearly.  Go wild!  You can always delete what is not necessary.
  4. Check your list regularly.  Nothing is more demoralizing than returning to a forgotten task list with 87087 overdue items.  Set a time each day (at least once or twice) when you will return to your task list.  I make sure to look at least once in the morning and once in the evening, although realistically I look more often than that.  If you forget to look and the overdue tasks are piling up, simply delete them or reschedule them to another day, leaving only what is manageable for you right now.  This is a process!

It just occurred to me that this post will need some editing, but I am reaching the limit of the amount of time I have for this activity – I can see the e-mails piling up in my work inbox as we speak.  So I am setting a task for later – edit and publish blog post.  But I am definitely checking off “write blog post” to get that wonderful sense of smug satisfaction that only a check mark can bring.

For so much more information on getting thins done (and the myriad of online tools that can help), visit Stepcase Lifehack, one of my favorite blogs!

What about you?  Do you have a system for getting things done?  Do you love/hate to do lists?

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