Saturday, April 23, 2011

Productive Task Listing

Whenever the seasons change my guy is swamped with new chores around the house, and he gets a little aggravated. Being a hands-on, get-it-done type, he's not particular fond of multi-tasking or leaving things unfinished. At some point he starts grousing at me about all the work that needs to be done and how he can't keep up with it.

Because I'm the organized one, I always say the same thing: Prioritize everything and make a task list. Then start at the top of the list and do at least one thing every day.

He used to blow me off and continue spinning his wheels, but after 22 years together he's watched what I get done and knows it works, so now he writes up the list. Then about a week or two later, after he finishes everything on it, all the stuff is done, he's much happier and I get an extra kiss.

Here's his latest list (click on image to see larger version.) I like to read his lists when he's not around so I can help out here and there but also to see how he prioritizes things. My guy likes to do yard work, use his power tools and paint much more than he likes to clean or shop, so his favorite chores are always at the top of the list.

I think this is pretty typical of most people's approach to tasking: take care of the fun stuff first, leave the dull or boring stuff for last. This is also the main reason many people have trouble finishing their task lists because by the time they reach the un-fun part they don't have anything to look forward to, and they have to drag themselves through all that work they don't like to do.

I write task lists all the time, and one thing I've learned that helps me get through them faster is to alternate fun with dull. I always begin the work day with something difficult or that I don't especially like to do; this because at the start of the day I have the most energy and patience. I follow that with a task I really want to do, and this motivates me to get task #1 finished so I can move on to something fun. Then I just repeat that over and over through the work day until I finish everything.

Here's one of my reminder lists from this past week. I kicked off the day by working on three chapters of a copy-edit that is due back to my editor on May 2nd, possibly the most stressful thing I had to do all day. I followed up that with a rewrite of a chapter I wasn't happy with, something I really wanted to jump on because I'd been rewriting it in my head for a couple of days, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. After that I had a glossary to work on, which I dislike, and then my lunch break and a sewing project, which I love and that also recharges my creative batteries (Fall Crazy is not my state of mind; it's an autumn-themed crazy quilt I'm working on.)

The rest of the day alternated the same way, until I wrapped things up by working on the sewing project again -- something I love -- so when I finally got to bed I was in a good mood. I've found that saving for last a task that involves the least amount of work but offers the most fun is a great way to relax, unwind, and combat my chronic insomnia.

If you decide to start using task lists to better manage your time, remember to pace yourself. I get up and start working at 6 am, and generally don't finish until I go to bed at 11 pm, which would be insane if I didn't take plenty of breaks. I also reserve a couple of hours each day and keep them open so I can spend time with my family and be available to handle any unexpected/unplanned tasks that land in my lap.

You know the old saying about all work, too, so try to devote a little time every day for play. I sew, read, go for walks or listen to music, not because I want to goof off but because I know I need to, or I'll crack under the constant pressure. Doing things that are strictly for fun can help you become even more productive, because whatever makes you happy will eliminate stress, improve your mood and put you into a mind frame that allows you to accomplish more when you do go back to work.

Related links:'s article, How to Write an Effective To-Do List

iPrioritize, an online list-making/storage service, offers free accounts to registered users. You can create lists, rearrange them, print them, e-mail them, share them and access them even by phone.'s article To Do Lists ~ The Key to Efficiency


  1. If I didn't adore you so much, your list would frighten me. I can't comprehend that much organization... O.o It's gotta be the work of mad scientist or something.

  2. ooh, iPrioritize looks awesome for me! :D I do love a good list, esp. as I get to cross things out!

  3. I'm having a head-slapping moment. Although I love lists and use them every day, I never thought to alternate fun things with hard things. Thanks for the insight.

  4. Thanks, PBW ...
    I also live by lists, but hadn't really thought about balancing the un-fun with the fun.

    Great tip and I'll use it -- thanks once more to you, PBW! I learn so much from this blog!

    One thing to share: FocusBooster or another timing gadget. FB is online, free, and fun for me to use but in the past, I've used Kitchen Timers and they've worked out just fine.

    Timers help me keep true to my list, because I have a tendency to get wrapped up in one project and "forget" all about the unfun stuff, telling myself that I'll do it later.

    Thanks again for this post. I'm going to start incorporating what you've shared here, right NOW!

    God bless,

  5. I'm with Shiloh. You have a scary to-do list! Mine looks a lot more like your hubby's, but it's all in shorthand and I usually lose it after the second or third task so then I'm back to wandering and doing things as I need them done.

    *sigh* I'm just a mess...

  6. I'm with Shiloh, that list scares me.

    But I'm also with Margaret :head desk: why didn't I think of alternating the boring with the fun?

  7. Jordan Summers and I were just discussing the importance of taking breaks and recharging and how you're such a good role model for doing that consistently. Nice approach to lists!

  8. My mom had a marvellous idea a few weeks ago, we both also make to-do-lists for everything, and she said hey, let's just make a don't-list for a change, for all the things we won't do this weekend! :)