How to Make Lists Work For You

One of the things on my to-do list is to write back to readers who e-mail me list-making questions.  It’s actually one of my favorite things to do.  I recently got an email from Josh and I thought his questions were ones that other people might have as well.  Here goes:

I do enjoy making lists and find them helpful. However, one thing that I get stuck with is how to set up my list and how many to make/where to keep them. Do you just use one notebook for all lists? Do you color code? I often find that I get stumped with this step. I want my lists to look presentable and not just write stuff any and everywhere. How do you set yours up?

There are a lot of great questions in there.  But I’m going to break them into two groups:

1.  How to set up lists & where to make them:

For work — I write a list every night before I leave for the following day.  I run through the day in my head and write out every appointment, task and detail that I need to remember for the next day.  I always write my to-do lists for work in the same notebook and keep it in the same place.

I usually set up the list by deadline because in my field your day can literally be minute by minute.  So I write the list from the beginning of the day to the end of the day and note “hit times” for each item if there is one.

At home — I have a similar central notebook with all my to-dos.  It lives on my desk.  Then (and this is where it gets a little advanced (read: complicated)) — I have different lists for different tasks.  I always leave my grocery list in the kitchen.  I use several apps — some of which only have one purpose.  For instance, I use iMustTry to list out all the restaurants I want to get to.  For me — having different lists for different purposes helps to keep things organized.

2. Color coding and other ways to organize:

I’m not a big color coder.  I know it works for a lot of people but for me — organizing my daily to-do list on one piece of paper is better.  That doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it — you have to see what works best with you.

I make two columns generally.  One work related one the left and one personal on the right.  The personal column usually includes things like “go to the ATM” and “bring heels home.”

6 replies
  1. linda zanoni
    linda zanoni says:

    I was using a paper list for home items – page-a-day notepad/calendar by workman publishing and my paper calendar for work – taking out the pages without to do items on them and leaving behind the items that I still needed to complete – I don’t have tremendous deadlines. By throwing out the lists I don’t have clutter afterward – which may not work for some.

    I have recently moved the home list to my ipad – using “sticky notes” for personal items that are short lived (locate keys) and “evernote” for longer term items that require more notes – and this app syncs with my work PC so I have all the notes at home and at work –

  2. Sheila
    Sheila says:

    Having my notebook fit into my purse is a plus! I waffle back in forth between the old fashion writing the a list down and using the amazing apps that are out there.

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Hi Sheila —

      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m the exact same way. I tend to go back to handwriting my lists but I find a lot of apps really helpful too! They are especially good when you’re on the go and can’t get to your notebooks.

  3. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I’m curious about what type of notebook you use. I’ve always used mid-sized spiral notebooks – they fit in my purse if needed and I keep them after I’ve used them – dating them on inside cover for the period they cover – as they often serve as a diary of my days. I can look back and reference them for phone numbers I’ve jotted down, etc., and since they are spiral bound I don’t worry about pages coming out (unless I want them to). I just wish it didn’t look so “student” basic. I often wish I had something more professional when I pull it out in meetings.

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Hi Tiffany! Thanks for writing in. I love notebooks but mostly I use 6 in x 9 in stenopads. Or I also like to use reporter’s notebooks, which are 4×8 in. Those are really easy to toss into your bag when you are on the go. Thanks for reading!


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