When we were young we were taught to differentiate between wants (yummm, Oreos!) and needs (gross, actual food). Now that we’re actually grown up, it turns out that prioritizing has real-world consequences (damn you slow metabolism) and so learning to organize our life is actually really important.
Unluckily, there are a billion note-taking apps, to-do list apps, and every shopping/movies/music/travel site wants you to save lists. Plus, I love sticky notes. Oh, did I mention excel spreadsheets and word docs of items. And, don’t forget emails to yourself. (!!!)
So over Christmas, my number one to-do wasn’t to actually accomplish any of my to-do’s, but to just simplify my life by figuring out all of my lists and make them work for me again. Two weeks and many deletions later, I’ve consolidated everything physical and random in Evernote notebooks, kept only one short-term, important things list, and subjugated all else into locations where they won’t be lost but also where I won’t have to see them alongside more important items. (Why short-term, important? – because a man with less time than me said so.) Now to-do lists don’t suck up my life or space and I’m much saner (and sort of more productive). Here’s what else I learned:
1. There are two kinds of to-do lists. There are the lists you actually need with short-term, important things; and there are the lists of things you just want to remember for some future ambiguous time. If you forget to look at the former, you might miss something. If you look at the latter too frequently, you might actually drive yourself crazy because that list is only going to get longer.
So this point I already knew, because I’m always irrationally worried about forgetting about what TV shows I had wanted to watch or articles to read. I
still used to keep track of those on excel spreadsheets but thankfully now there’s a million apps to do for you. The beautiful thing about keeping these lists of time-sucks tucked away is that you realize you didn’t miss them while they were away, yet at the same time you know that Netflix will keep track of your to-watch lists because they want you to renew your membership or that Amazon will keep your future to-buys safe so you will keep shopping there or that Spotify will….
Anyways, with your unimportant to-do’s kept on those ubiquitous commercial sites, you can instead keep your actual to-do list clear of clutter and not have excuses for, you know, crossing off your items.
2. Don’t look at your to-do lists every day. Okay, so you’ve successfully prioritized your prioritization system. Now you just stare your list of 10 things and watch it everyday because it won’t shrink, just like your waistline – also an item on your list because you didn’t make specific, obtainable short-term goals.
But actually, as opposed to other advice, I’d prefer to keep my to-do list away from my direct sight everyday. Are you really going to forget that you need to “buy a new phone” or that you need to “clean your desk”? Instead, you should only pull it twice a day – once in the morning to figure out which of your to-do’s you are going to accomplish that day and once more at night to cross off said item. So force yourself to only write down items that are completely necessary in your life.
If you have time-specific goals, make a calendar invite on your medium of choice. Try to keep your actual to-do list time-unspecific so that it is about accomplishment, not fretting.
3. Have a read later folder. Speaking of fretting, there are a thousand things to read everyday and 999 of them end up in your email inbox specifically to cause you worry. You can’t delete them because you haven’t responded/checked out the link/filed away the advice, and yet you really don’t have the time to go thru them all. The best part: tomorrow your inbox number will magically go up by 10.
My solution is to have a “Read Later” folder, or even several “Later” folders. Skim and file away. That way, you won’t worry about forgetting nor about inbox bloat. Your inbox should be your must respond or must do, not an ever expanding list of maybes. The truth is, if you file away and you don’t remember it, that just means the email wasn’t important enough to warrant your time. It’s like a missed call, if it’s really that important they would’ve left you a voice-mail. On the other hand, if you ever have lots of time or you randomly remember you want to check something out, well you know where to search.
4. You don’t have to finish. I’m stealing this from Marissa Mayer because I never heard anyone articulate this point exactly, but it just made so much sense. “If I did [get to the bottom of the list] it would be a real bummer,” Mayer said. “Because think about all those things at the very bottom of your to-do list that really shouldn’t take time out of your day.”
And in one sentence, Queen Yahoo! summarizes my last 700 words – because #1-3 are not just ways to keep you focused on the priorities, but also accepting them will keep you sane.
The bottom line: technology should be about making your life easier, not tougher. As someone who just lost an external hard drive (and had to pay $$$ to get the data back), it’s worth spending a little time to organize your information in order to have technology organize your life for a longer time. Filing things away will give you peace of mind and you probably won’t even miss them as you go about your days being awesome and creative.
P.S. Yes, the irony of writing a blog post with numbered bullet points is not lost on me.