One of the best parts of writing about productivity is that I have a good excuse for studying other people’s strategies. Then I can take what I think sounds smart, try these strategies in my life, and keep what works best.
As I was making a list of strategies for this post, I realized that almost everything involved a list. So this is a list of lists. Because lists are awesome! Here are the ones I make, how I use them, and why they work for me.
The List of 100 Dreams. This is a real 30,000 foot type list of anything I want to do or have in life. I don’t really look at it that often, but every few years I make a new one as certain things come to pass (I now own a bike and a garden) or pass out of my interest zone (I no longer have any interest in co-authoring/ghosting books, whereas in a past phase of my professional life I was. Re-reading the 2015 list I see that it already feels dated too).
Quarterly goals. Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. I do too, but I structure them as quarterly goals. Toward the end of the calendar year, I set intentions for Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4 in three categories: career, relationships, self. Here is my list for 2016. Some are happening, some are not. Some moved to different quarters. Some are good to be reminded of (I wanted to play Linus & Lucy on the piano? Guess I better get the sheet music!) One good exercise to try brainstorming this list is to think about what you’d like to say in next year’s performance review (for the career stuff) and next year’s “family holiday letter” (for the personal stuff — just please do not actually send this letter!). Quarterly goals allow you to accomplish a lot without thinking you need to do it all at once.
Weekly priority list. This is my real workhorse list. It’s the one where intentions meet reality. Every Friday, I make a list of priorities for the next week in the categories of career, relationships, self. So for instance, this week I started editing the novel, followed up on some TED business, got my monthly newsletter out, have written several blog posts, and turned in an article. On the relationships side, I took the kids trick or treating, went to a first grade parents social, started organizing this party I won at a high end bra store (!), booked the house for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary week this summer, and we’ll go to the Night of 1000 Lights at Longwood this weekend. On the self side, I wanted to bike the Lehigh Gorge, run 4 times, and get some snacks that involved vegetables. I think roughly about when each of these things should happen.
Daily + weekend list. I pull items off the weekly priority list and put them on each day’s list. If the week is really full I’ll create the full week’s daily lists (or at least M-W — Thurs/Fri tend to be more mop up days for what didn’t get done). If the week is less full, I’ll make Monday’s list, and maybe Tuesday, and then make each subsequent day’s list the day before (so Wed on Tues, Thurs on Wed, etc.). By mid-week (generally by Wednesday), I take a look at what’s on the weekend calendar, and make a rough outline of when the have-to-dos and want-to-dos should happen.
Seasonal fun lists. In my effort to make sure I’m doing enjoyable things in my life, and that I don’t feel like I “missed out” on anything that makes a holiday special for me, I make seasonal fun lists. So far, I’ve generally just done Summer Fun Lists, and Christmas Fun Lists. This fall, though, I also had a loose list of autumn fun stuff. This was actually a pretty good fall for this, considering how much travel I did. I went camping, went hiking in the Poconos, went biking in Lehigh Gorge/visited Jim Thorpe, went apple picking (more of a late summer activity, really, to get the kinds I like), and will be going to the chrysanthemum thing and to a Eagles game with my 7-year-old. I don’t really have lists for spring or non-holiday winter. Maybe I just don’t like those seasons as much. Stuff from these lists often just gets pulled onto the weekly priority lists, but occasionally I need to think farther ahead (the holiday list has some elements of that: breakfast w/Santa tix go fast in October!)
The project list (someday/maybe). This is where I park various things that occur to me but are often more “should” dos than fun stuff. (David Allen fans will recognize this as a version of the someday/maybe list). For instance, I desperately need some new bras. Good thing I won that party! Also, I need new glasses, and to clean out my office filing cabinet. None of this stuff is urgent, but I try to keep pulling stuff off this list, ideally at a rate of roughly one item per week.
What kinds of lists do you make?