How do you get things done? How do you remember what you need to do?

I’ve always relied on to-do lists. My lists are usually a general list for the week and then a list of what needs to be done on a specific day. I put this in my calendar journal (I have a page which is my calendar for the week and then blank pages for free writing, which I do nearly every day).

At one point I read about creating three lists: to-do/being done/finished. That way you can track everything more minutely and it feels good to move things from one list to the other. Of course, feeling good about your to-do list is the best (possibly one of the most important) things about keeping a to-do list.

Micro To-Dos

Today I was reading a very interesting article on to-do lists on Medium (you can find it here). Of course, I was intrigued by the title—getting 100 things done a day! It’s misleading though. The way he gets over 100 things done is by breaking every single task down into micro-tasks.

Now, I’m in the process of reading Atomic Habits by James Clear which is all about breaking tasks down into “Atomic” (super small) pieces. I do think that Coach Tony (the author of the Medium article) takes things a little far with that concept though. If I did it his way, my task “Write blog post” would be broken down as follows:

  1. Decide on blog topic
  2. Open Microsoft Word
  3. Write introduction
  4. List Medium article
  5. Find and add link to Medium article
  6. Talk about Atomic Habits
  7. Find and add link to Atomic Habits on Amazon
  8. Add what I’ve done in my to-do list habits
  9. Add what I’m trying next in my to-do list habits
  10. Ask what others do
  11. Find image to go with blog post
  12. Save blog
  13. Open posts page on website
  14. Upload blog to website
  15. Upload image to website
  16. Schedule blog to run on Sunday
  17. Upload blog to Medium

Do you see how many steps that is just for one task (I deliberately numbered them so you could see)? I’m sorry, but I think that’s a little ridiculous. It’s one task. I make it one task. Breaking it down into its parts (I might even say sub-atomic pieces) makes a mountain out of a molehill. Writing a blog post just isn’t that big of a deal.

Now, if my task were to, say, write a novel, then yes, breaking it down would make sense because writing a novel is a task that could take months to complete and does consist of many parts. For that sort of thing I’d break it down into:

  1. Write Kernel Idea for story.
  2. Fill in Character Worksheets for main characters
  3. Decide on major turning points
  4. Figure out scenes to get from one turning point to the next
  5. Start writing!!
    1. Scene 1
    2. Scene 2
    3. Scene 3
    4. (each scene as I go)

You get the idea. Each writing day I try to write 1-2 scenes, depending on their length. Each day on my to-do list I have “write” and then the title of the scene I need to write that day, or at least the one I need to start out with (as I say, I might write more than one a scene a day). But I’m not going to get more detailed than that on my to-do list, that I save for my writing journal (which I’ll talk more about next week).

More Practical To-Do Lists

Now, I believe there are a number of different types of to-do lists:

  • There’s your every day to-do list – that’s the list of things that really you should do today Sometimes because of time constraints or just plain-old procrastination they don’t get done today and you smush them off till tomorrow (but really if you don’t get it done tomorrow, it should get switched to a different list or just bloody-well do it!)
  • There’s a needs to get done sometime in the near future – if you’re really good you’ll actually put a date on those. I’m not usually so good and just label them for “next week”.
  • There’s this should be done sometime in the not too distant future – again, put a date on them to be sure they actually do get done.
  • There’s should do someday. I think we all know what that might look like. 😊

If you want to be really good, put a due date on everything.

Where and how to keep the list

Now, the big question is, where do you put this list so that you can see it and are reminded to actually do these things?

I use two different places: my phone where I use an app (it used to be Actions by Moleskin because it syncs very nicely with their calendar and I like the whooshing sound it makes when you move things around). Right now, thanks to this article I read on Medium, I’m giving Remember the Milk a try. It’s nice because you can access it both from the internet and your phone and it syncs automatically. You can also label your tasks and tag them (in Actions you can label things, but not tag them). If you pay for the subscription you do to a lot more with Remember the Milk, but since I’m just trying it out I’ll wait on forking over my money. If I like it and stick with it, I’ll probably sign up for their “pro” account.

I also, as I mentioned before use my hand-written calendar journal. In there, I keep my long-term to-dos in a list on the first page of the month, my weekly to-dos on each weekly page and my daily to-dos in a list for that day (also on my weekly page). Here’s a picture just so that it’s clear:

I know, it’s not pretty but it is practical. I know exactly what I need to do that day and that week.

The important key here is what will get you do to what you need to do. How will you remember all that you need to do? I’m in the camp of “Whatever it takes and whatever works for you is what you should do.” That being said, I strongly recommend you use an app either on your phone or computer or, even better, one that works in both places like Remember the Milk.

One that also allows you to separate your tasks into categories (work/personal) is better. One that lets you categorize them even more with tags or sub-categories is best. And then don’t forget to put a due date on them, really! That’s how you’ll be reminded that you really need to get that project that “isn’t urgent, but really does need to be done” done.

Over to you! How do you organize your to-do list? What’s your favorite app? Do you keep a journal? A bullet journal? Tell me all!