One Bag Nation

A Tangle of Tasks & To Do’s

Posted on: July 26, 2008

I was having a tough afternoon, just one of those days where my anxiety was getting the better of me. I’m noticing that this happens more often on the weekends, and I think it’s because we don’t have a routine. I’m a planner and it’s hard for me to relax, so weekends can be challenging.

Anway – and this sounds silly now – I was getting all in a tizzy about my To Do list. Not what was on it, but how to organize it. I don’t want to tell you how many systems I’ve tried for getting my task lists organized . . . let’s just say my system is still “evolving”!

I feel more urgency about getting this together now that I have a new job. I bought a new calendar/day planner thinking it would help – when will I learn? – but now I’m having second thoughts about it. My Three Most (hah, I typed Moist!) Important Things system is going pretty well, but I have to keep a master list somewhere, and this is what’s tripping me up. I’m trying to manage household, personal, work, serenity project and blogging tasks all in one place, and maybe that’s not going to work.

So how do you keep track of your tasks?

Do you make long lists? Do you organize them by category, role, or context, a la Mr. Allen? Do you look at them? Do you do what’s on them?

I would love to know what works for you!

PS How did I snap out of my funk? By getting on the treadmill – works like a charm!


21 Responses to "A Tangle of Tasks & To Do’s"

Hi Ann,

I used to make long lists, but that didn’t work. Now I make short ones of what I want to get done in a day. Some days I don’t get anything crossed off my list, but that’s o.k. as it waits. Hehe.

I’ve found there’s more to life than having a spotless house, an organized desk, or no dishes in the sink. Life is about spending quality time with your family and friends, creating memories.

To do lists are great, but I don’t let them rule my life.

I’ve found that is an amazing place to keep my master list.

However, I do a lot better writing things out–I find I remember them better, and it keeps me from jumping on the computer all day long (it is SO easy to get lost in good sites, such as this one).

In the morning I take a look at my rtm list, see if there’s anything due that day or the next, get a new 3×5 index card (yes, I’m a huge hPDA user) and write down my most important tasks.

My system seems so cluttered written out, but it’s really the only thing I’ve found that works for me. I NEED the long list so I don’t forget anything, but I can’t have it in sight, because it overwhelms me. And starting out the day determining its course provides much needed structure.

I SO sympathize! I think we two got jobs at the same time. The juggling takes on a whole new meaning doesn’t it?

I haven’t tried this idea but my sister swears by it: She writes down her to do’s in a tick-tac-toe board and hangs it on the fridge. When she finishes a task, she covers it with a magnet. Black out days get BIG rewards but she still wins if she can manage three in a row. Clever huh?

My system is also “evolving” but I do keep a huge master list of all the projects and their next actions. I’m still struggling with how to organize it but what seems to be working best is by major areas of focus which are related to physical places or things. As a farmer my top level groupings are things like Sheep, Hay Barn, Back Pasture, West Pasture and my personal ones are things like Quilting and Reading. Right now it’s one huge test file in Word, I’m trying to turn it into an outline so I can show or hide parts as needed but so far it’s not going too well. I want some sections numbered and others not which is causing problems. I like having everything listed in one place even though it can be hard to find any specific thing in a hurry.

Eep. Yeah, I used to have gigantic lists of doom — multiple ones, in attempts to organize them. For me, though, the solution was the use sticky notes.

I just write down each task on a sticky note, or each list of tasks within the ‘project’, and stick’em on a wall. Super-sticky post-its mean that I can re-arrange them however I like, depending on what kind of day it is, what kind of stuff I need to get done, and I can even stick them onto a clipboard or my computer to take with me when I leave the house.

Within that, personally, I use an importance/urgency grid. Two axis, one labeled important/not important, and the other urgent/not urgent. Since sticky notes are moveable, I can just put tasks wherever they fit at the beginning of each day. Also, colour-coding sticky notes based on type (for me, housekeeping, school-related, people to contact, etc.) can add some more detail during panic times when I need them.

I’m a total list-maker. Lists for everything! Color coding or making separate areas for different types of tasks helps to keep me organized. For work, I cordon off my to-do list with areas for specific things I need to do on a regular basis: request a login, write a report, alert someone about a problem, etc. I do something similar for groceries: I made a table with the different areas of the grocery store (in the order of the rows of the physical store) – fruit/veg, dairy, cheese/bulk, pasta/sauce, canned food, meat, etc etc. When I go shopping, I never have to go back for something I forgot to pick up!

I generally use GTD. I’ve tried several things. The two top things I like are:

2-Subject notebook + hPDA
The hPDA holds tasks as I think of them (an “Inbox”)
One section of the 2-subject notebook is projects
Everything from the hPDA (& other inboxes) get copied to the project list
2nd section of the 2-subject notebook are task lists (one page per context)
The next action (and only the next action) gets copied to the task list
The main reason I like this is because I find that when I take my thoughts and write them down, they appear to be more physical and managable than if I enter them on the computer (where they exist as an amorphous blob with a lot of other stuff). They won’t get lost/changed/etc. They are in one place and only one place.

MonkeyGTD (
A single HTML file that can edit itself. You can do an amazing amount of things with this. It keeps “Realms separate” (Work, House, Fun, etc…)
It also organizes projects into tasks and organizes tasks by context.
Plus, it’s really good for printing to hPDA (if that’s your bag)–but it’s probably quicker just to copy to hPDA yourself.

Hi Poojan Wagh: I’d like to try a computer-based solution, but I also like the process of writing. That being said, it took me forever to move to writing directly in word (rather than handwriting my first drafts of things) but once I forced myself, it was so much easier! could be the same with task mgmt.

I put everything on my Google Calendar. I go through it during the day, and transfer what’s left for the next day. If an item keeps being transferred to the next day, I sometimes just mark it off. Or I make myself do it NOW. 🙂

Oh, the important stuff – what I think should be done the next day – I highlight those items with a marker. Usually no more than 3-4 items per day.

My husband mocks me because I can’t do anything without making a list. 🙂 I recently started using a PDA, and I find it helpful. It was a big improvement over the little scraps of paper scattered all over.

However, I haven’t found a specific format that really works for me. I just kind of adjust it to my current needs and state of mind.

Hi Vered: I haven’t tried Google calendar, in fact, I haven’t tried any electronic solutions until now. I decided to try Toodledo and I’ve been busy making folders and entering tasks – we’ll see how it goes!

HI Katie, my husband can’t mock me because he himself has to write everything down! Good luck with the PDA; I just can’t go there . . . yet!

Ah good one. The Urbane Lion and I have lists all over the house. In notebooks, on scraps of paper, in calendars. Every time I think we have a system, we start a new list somewhere else. Appointments, when we have the Ten Year Old days, social engagements, I finally have under control in that we put up a whiteboard calendar in the office. Work very well for me, but the Lion never looks at it. But, he does know that I keep track so his strategy is to rely on me.

For our blogging short and long term plans and to dos, yesterday we put up a huge, and I do mean huge, whiteboard in the office. Now, hopefully, we keep all of this consolidated. As for the rest, such as household chores, etc., I guess for the moment we will carry on with our lists. I guess we need a list of our lists.

I have a super long to-do list as well. I’m enjoying all these creative ideas in the comments, especially the tic-tac-toe and the grid of post-its. I usually keep a short list of MIT’s for the day, and a long list of tasks for later that I don’t want to forget.

Rachel: I love the tic tac toe idea, perfect for someone visual like me!

I made a Home Management Notebook based on’s guidelines. She even has a great “Daily Docket” page you can download for free that has a to-do list, MIT section, and more. It’s been working great for me. Now I don’t have 5 million post-it lists wandering around the house– they’re all in my binder!

Hi gidget: I’m going to print one of those today and give it a go; thank you! I also recommend; she’s helped me enormously!

I have no problem with actually organising my to-do lists, but I do have trouble actually getting anything done off them!!

I use a great online task list called Toodledo, which is pretty flexible so you can tailor it to your own needs and the way that you like to organise tasks. I use a system vaguely influenced by GTD, but I never found contexts to be the most useful way of organising my tasks and I still use priorities (I don’t really agree with David Allens criticisms of prioritisation, I feel that it’s useful to make decisions about priority when I’m processing tasks rather than when I’m trying to decide what to do!). Toodledo allows you to categorise things in a variety of ways (e.g. contexts, folders, tasks/subtasks (which I treat as projects), tags, date, priority etc., and you can hide any of these if you don’t use them so it’s not cluttered with hundreds of things you don’t need. Toodledo also works quite well with all sorts of other online tools (like google calendar; also tasks can be emailed into Toodledo, which is helpful) and can be synced or printed off in various useful ways.

I’ve come to the conclusion that however I organise my tasks, I’m still going to struggle to motivate myself to actually do them, but I think having them well organised and all in one place at least removes some obstacles to actually doing the tasks!

I currently use my master list in Toodledo to make short daily to-do lists on paper, which is sort of working, but I get distracted too easily and often find that I’ve only done a couple of the tasks by the end of the day.

Sorry, I just realised you actually said you were trying Toodledo now – good luck with it! I’ve found it really helpful, and it’s actually quite good fun to find new ways to use it to manage my tasks (tags & searches, for instance, can be used in all sorts of inventive ways). Now all I need is for Toodledo to actually DO all the tasks for me!!

Miss Dipsy: I didn’t stick with Toodledo; I’m really a paper and pen sort of person, and like you I can foil any system with procrastination! I was trying simple mom’s ( Daily Docket before my vacation, and will go back to that when I get home.

As for GTD, I think David Allen needed a good editor – talk about Too Much Information! I just couldn’t deal with it . . .

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