I like my to do lists, but for the longest time, I kept track of the things in a mashed-up system between my journal, an online calendar, and a “someday/maybe” list that spilled over into my phone. It wasn’t an effective system, but it was the only one I had.
I knew I needed a different system, but I couldn’t quite define what it looked like. I knew I wanted to rely less on a digital device1 and more on a notebook that I could fill in with a pen or pencil. I also wanted something bulky and physical that could stay only in my office, rather than go into the field, so that it wouldn’t get lost or left behind, in a place where all my ugly secrets would be exposed.
In August, I bought myself a new calendar book that was very basic. It had the week on the left side of the pages where I could write the stuff that lay ahead for the week and lined paper on the right where I could write the things I needed to do. There was also some blank lined pages at the back where I could transfer my leftovers, someday/ maybe/likely-never-gonna-do-list to the back pages.
I also saw an advantage in this fixed week system because I could place to-do items and events into the future as a reminder when I arrived at that week. Often to-do list apps on digital devices leave these items waiting for you on the main screen, taking up space, a harbinger of the crap you’re trying to let go and worry about later.
Once I started, the old school input system worked well for me, but its greatest asset is that it continues to evolve over time. Since beginning to use it, I have added four new areas to the right hand page: Habits, Waiting On, Notes, and Priorities. At the top is my “Habits” section, where I remind myself about regular daily to-do items, like exercise, or walking the dog, spending an hour reading that sometimes require a visual cue to fulfill. I rarely have to look at it or check it off, but writing it down and having it sit at the top of the page usually keeps me on task.
Below that on the left is my “To Do” list section, and on the right are two columns: “Waiting on” and “Notes.” “Notes” came first, as a place to remind myself when I complete things or events that occur during that week. I have a horrible memory, so this helps me keep place of things in time. “Waiting on” is my newest addition, which sits above “Notes” and parallel with my “To Do” section. Often, I find I am waiting on other people’s actions to be completed and I write them down here, each with their own checkbox, waiting to be marked off.
At the bottom is my final section: “Priorities.” This is where I keep track of the week’s most important tasks. At one point, I had three writing projects on the go, two secondary projects I was overseeing, as well as dealing with family tasks, while also prepping for my upcoming class. To avoid allowing things to slip through the cracks, I needed a prompt to remind myself what long terms projects needed my focus.
Each of these sections are built on Sunday or early Monday morning, and the process of filling them in and looking over the shared family calendar has becomes a ritual that helps center me. Often my calendar book lies open on my desk, or office coffee table ready for my attention (right now, it sits under my keyboard while I type).
It is the pattern of my system that keeps me on task. It closes out my week as I tick off what’s been completed and helps build the plans of next weeks. I know it is this maintenance and upkeep, the process of tending to it regularly, that is truly the source of what maintains my level of order.
Despite my love of technology, I always like a backup systems. Which is why I won’t post an actual image of my page.↩︎