To Do Lists For Sanity’s Sake!

So I’m not normally a forgetful person. In fact, sometimes I recall things that surprise others around me (i.e. random birthdays, etc…). And one thing I’ve never had trouble remembering is the tasks that I have to get done, both long and short-term. Major parts of my job(s) don’t fall through the cracks. So why do I use a to-do list service? The little things that go bump in my head…

Yesterday I spent a few hours gaming on Xbox with some friends. I mentioned adding something to my to-do list (in this case, downloading some content for our next week’s gaming), and was asked by a friend what service I used. I replied that I used ToodleDo, while another friend spoke up and said “I use my mind!”. I used to be like my friend (Probably no surprise since we’ve been friends now for 15 years), only recently embracing a service for all of this. Why? Well it wasn’t the fact that things were falling through the cracks – it was more a problem of mental organization.

First a bit of background. I do a lot of stuff! I spend the majority of my time researching how people make decisions. This requires me to keep track of 3-4 simultaneous research lines, collect data, analyze it, and write it up for publication. A lot of moving parts, some big, some small. In my free time I program apps, write books, write this blog, and manage servers for my work, my former clients (in emergencies) and my church. I’ve got a lot going on, but rarely feel overwhelmed. Except at those times when my mental list is bulging with little things to do. If you’ve ever felt like you’re spending most of your energy keeping track of tasks to do later that day or tomorrow, you need to start using a to-do list. It’s simply a fact that your energies can be better spent creating and innovating, not keeping your mind revolving around things like “email Eric”, “apply patches”, “set up new user account”.

Some of you might use the dreaded “make a calendar appointment” method. This can work fine in some cases, but in the end is the wrong tool for the job. This post outlines why in a number of ways. I used to do this until I realized that if I don’t have a particularly heavy day, I don’t look at my calendar closely. My list online also handles recurring tasks much more elegantly than my calendar can.

Getting started with a to-do list is probably 10 times harder than maintaining it. So here’s some of the things I have on my list that immediately made a positive impact on my life. Recurring tasks are things that took mental energy to remember to do, now it’s all in one place:

  • Security patches on my servers, every 2 weeks (Immediately if necessary)
  • Verifying backups of critical data are done (it’s surprising how automation can break down sometimes!)
  • Taking image backups of my phone every week.
  • Checking our mailbox at work every day.
  • Making my bi-monthly external hard drive offsite backups

Future tasks also go nicely. Things like:

  • Buying a gift for someone – if I remember their birthday a few weeks out (before I’m ready to buy), I can make a note and set a future start date.
  • I have to cancel a service between the 5th and 15th of the month next month – future start dates to the rescue!

So go ahead and keep using your mind if you want. It’s a pretty good tool for what you want to do. But if you ever start to feel like you’re near the falling through the cracks point, consider keeping a list. It’s not hard, and perhaps liberating!

2 Replies to “To Do Lists For Sanity’s Sake!”

  1. Glad you liked the post, Jon – also, it’s a keen observation that tracking recurring and future items are one of the major benefits of lists. This way, you free up time and energy for finding something cool for game night 🙂

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