Since I wrote a whole book about lists, it’s quite common for people to want to show me their lists or share their organizational woes with me.
If someone's organizational strategy isn't working, the reason is almost always the same: It's too simple. If your life is complex and requires a lot of juggling, your organizational methods probably need to be a bit more advanced, too.
Here are the lists I regularly use to map out my day:
1. The night-before list
Every evening, make a list of the things you must get done the following day. If you’re writing an article, outline it the night before—it’ll save you hours the next day. I like to divide my list into two. The first half is things I need to do before noon. The second half is things I need to do before the end of the business day. This means you’re not wasting those productive early morning hours deciding what to do, how to do it, or when to do it. Your list is your road map when you sit down at your desk in the morning. You can just start getting stuff done.
2. The meeting list
Meetings are a massive time-suck. For me, it’s all about finding that balance of talking through everything that needs to be discussed and keeping the momentum going. To keep meetings efficient, make sure to set an agenda. Also, have clearly defined goals in mind. What is your intention with this meeting? What will you walk out knowing?
In my book, I interviewed the CEO of United Capital, a wealth-management firm. He does not allow employees to have a meeting without bringing a checklist. That checklist details everything that will be covered in the meeting. He says productivity has doubled and meeting times have been slashed in half since he started doing this. And check out Do.com for help keeping you on track during meetings.
3. The follow-up list
Just because you’ve completed a task doesn’t mean it’s done! It might be good to check up on things in a couple of days. This is also good for networking. Make a note of connections to get back in touch with as well as what you need to talk about. If you have a brilliant idea, make sure to add it to this list so you can research it later. I like to put these follow-ups on my phone calendar so I get pop-up reminders. You can also use services like Boomerang for Gmail to pop an email back to the top of your inbox at a later date as a reminder to follow up on it.
4. The on-the-go list
New tasks are going to pop up, and situations are going to change throughout the day. Unless they need to be dealt with right away, it’s best to just jot them down on your on-the-go list so you can get to them at a more convenient time. Instead of changing gears and doing that new task, have a separate list for these ad hoc tasks, and determine where they fit within your other lists at a later time. That to-do might need to go on tomorrow’s list.
What lists do you make to keep on track?