The Power of List Making

I’ve never been stellar at time management. I always seem to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to work and projects. Recently, however, I’ve managed to stay on top of some pretty daunting time management tasks. Over the past month I’ve been juggling working on my masters thesis, working on a worksheet for children about waste management, building websites, learning iPhone programming and generally sorting out what I want to do with the time I have before I head back to university to start studying in earnest.

At first when looking back at the past month I attributed managing all these tasks to extra time. The thing is though, I didn’t really have that much extra time. I went to the beach about 2-3 hours every day, watched movies and TV shows and still managed to hang out with friends to discuss the ins and outs of the world.

So how come all of a sudden all of this seemed more manageable? I never really bought into the time management seminars that I was sometimes obligated to attend and previously when I had large project and lots of things to do I would try and schedule my life like a class schedule. This meticulous approach to managing my time never really worked unless I was under extreme amounts of pressure.

Recently however, I began making lists. These weren’t lists of what I’m going to do, how long I have to do it. That kind of planning only serves to demoralise me as I invariably will set myself ridiculous amounts of time for certain tasks and will then feel like I’ve failed myself if I haven’t fulfilled them. No, these lists are after the fact lists and strictly informal.

At the end of the day, usually around 4 or 5 o’clock I sat in the car and told my friend what I had done that day. Or, if he wasn’t about I’d tell myself. The lists usually start off quite small with one or two behemoth items. Not to demoralise myself I take these large items and break them down into smaller components to really impress on myself how much I’ve actually done. If by some misfortune I have a crap day and end up not doing all that much then I know, tomorrow I’ll need to do better. That’s it. There are no goals no targets to reach I do the work I feel like doing when I feel like doing. The only deadlines I have are the final ones.

This approach means that I spend much less time worrying about when and for how long I have been working on a particular subject and can therefore focus on the task at hand. I know that a lot of people probably need goals and targets but I find it much more rewarding to look back and say “I’ve done that! What next?” rather than looking forward and saying “I still haven’t done that, and that, and that…”

This method of personal debriefing is incredibly satisfying allowing me to look forward to accomplishing the work because, although I might not realise how much I’ve actually done during the day, at the end of the day I get a full report on all my accomplishments.

I hope that someone else takes some wisdom from these thoughts as they’ve helped me enormously to keep on top of what I can only describe as a very full life that I have chosen for myself. I would be interested in hearing from other people about what they think of this work method. Is it used in business? If so how successful is it?

-J

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