Organization isn't just for space, stuff, and paper: you can also organize your time. While time management might not be quite the same as sorting out the items in a closet or creating an effective filing system, using some of the same organizing principles with time that you use with objects can help bring some order and sanity to your schedule.
This week's article discusses making an "Everything To Do" list--the first step in seeing where your time needs to go and what you want to focus on; next week, we'll put that list to work and will look at some basic time management skills you can use right away.
Not your average To Do list
Many of us use some form of daily or weekly To Do list to keep track of what we need to do, map our progress, jot notes, and post reminders. These lists are great tools, and by all means, if you're already using one, keep at it.
Even if you already use a To Do list, though, chances are there are tasks, ideas, and activities that don't fit on it anywhere. For example, your daily list of tasks probably covers things like phone calls you need to make, errands you need to run, and correspondence you need to take care of; it probably doesn't cover things like making plans to remodel your living room or doing research on an upcoming vacation. That's where an Everything To Do list comes in.
Anything and, well, everything
An Everything To Do list is, quite simply, a litany of all the tasks, activities, and errands you eventually want (or need) to get to, regardless of how large or small, and regardless of the time frame for each. The purpose of this list is to get as many reminders, ideas, and notes as possible out of your head and onto paper.
To create your Everything To Do list, set aside at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, and park yourself in a relaxing spot that's free of distractions. On a blank sheet of paper (or a blank word processing document), write down everything that comes to mind as something you want or need to do. At this stage, don't try to categorize or break down your tasks; simply get them on paper.
Your list will have everything from very small, very specific tasks--"call Greg on Monday," for example--to much larger, much broader tasks, such as "research spas for a possible weekend getaway," "look into dental insurance plans," and "jot down ideas for attic renovations." Again, remember that nothing is too small or too large, and nothing needs to be categorized or given a time estimate at this point.
Sorting and prioritizing
Once you've finished your list and are satisfied that it covers most of your To Do's, regardless of size or scope, set it aside for a day. This will not only let you take a breather, it'll also give you some perspective on the things you've jotted down, and will let you look at the list with clearer eyes the following day.
When you go back to the list, start reviewing it with the aim of sorting and prioritizing the things you've written. Choose a sorting method that makes sense to you--for example, you might use different colored highlighters to distinguish between tasks that are home-related, work-related, family-related, and self-related, or you might decide to use different sheets of paper to sort your tasks based on time frame. Whatever method you choose, be sure it helps you bring some order to your list.
Once you've sorted through your list and have divided the list items into categories, you'll have a clearer sense of how many tasks are in each category and will be able to do some prioritizing. Make a note of which tasks are most important to you, whether they're the most urgent or simply the most interesting.
When you've sorted and prioritized your list, set it aside in a spot where you won't have to look at it all day every day but also won't forget about it. (You may want to transfer to a daily or weekly To Do list any tasks you'll need to attend to during the week.) Next week, we'll return to your list and take a look at how basic time management can help you find time for what you need to, want to, and would love to do.