What’s Your System?

To Do List (Photo: toodledo.com)

To Do List (Photo: toodledo.com)

What’s your system for getting things done? What carries you along from thinking of a task to actually doing it?

I bet most of my readers like to make lists and cross things off them. But let’s get more specific.

Do you:

  • Hand write notes on scrap paper?
  • Use Post-It notes? If so, where do you stick them?
  • Keep a notebook full of lists? Is it a special notebook, like a blank journal, or an ordinary one?
  • Use a wall or desk calendar?
  • Keep lists on your phone or tablet?
  • Note everything in Outlook?
  • Set reminders? Set alarms?
  • Ask people to remind you of things?
  • Ask people to phone or text you with reminders?
  • Wait to be nagged?
  • Put visuals everywhere you go – on the bathroom mirror, in the car…
  • Keep it all in your head?
  • Make note of important things only?
  • Make note of little things only, because you’ll remember the big ones?
  • Keep all the info you need in a central location, like an inbox in the kitchen?
  • Deal with small items immediately so you don’t have to think about them again?
  • Break down jobs into steps and chip away at them?
  • Or go on a chores binge and work until you drop?
  • Rely on routine – such as getting a car wash whenever you get a fill-up?
  • Set aside blocks of time for planning and preparation – such as meal planning?
  • If you procrastinate, what’s your tipping point – what ends the cycle?
Photo: doblelol.com

Photo: doblelol.com

For regular household tasks, I don’t think of myself as having a system, but I do. It’s just a rather loose arrangement.

I always do things that affect my bodily comfort, such as showering, getting dressed, making meals and eating. However, I often cut back on sleep to get more done, and pay the price for it. I always get myself to work and I’m more productive than not 🙂  All of these things are non-negotiable and I don’t think about doing them differently.

I would say that housework is a low priority, but the reason it doesn’t get urgent is because I am on auto-pilot for a lot of it. I always make lunch to take to work. I always put dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the counter tops. The last one out of bed in the morning makes the bed. Mail and junk mail get sorted and dealt with as soon as we walk in the door.

Some tasks are scheduled, such as grocery shopping and laundry, almost always in the same weekly time slot. On the other hand, there’s no schedule for vacuuming or cleaning the bathroom or paying bills – they just get done when they seem to need doing.

We have a calendar in the kitchen for appointments and commitments that we both need to know about, but it’s sparse.

I don’t keep lists of day-to-day activities, only irregular ones that I am more likely to forget. So I don’t write down “Do laundry” but I do write down “Call for dentist appointment.”

I try to be realistic with myself. If I am dreading a chore, sometimes I’d rather do it than list it. I would never write down “Clean litter box” – I would just get it over with! Like lots of people, sometimes I perform better under pressure and I take action when things become urgent and not a moment sooner (as in – yikes, the motor vehicle inspection is due tomorrow!)

I suppose my Achille’s heel is putting off tasks that are never going to be urgent, such as negotiating a lower car insurance rate – there’s always next year 😦

I really like the idea of using a complete system such as Getting Things Done, but I’ve never adopted a system all-out. I just know what NOT to do – like keeping my email open all day. That doesn’t work because every incoming message feels like it needs an immediate response!

Photo: dealmates.com.my

Photo: dealmates.com.my

What system do you use?


  1. I should probably respond with a whole post – maybe tomorrow! I hand write on the other side of the HUGE pile of papers I generate at work. I don’t use post its if I can help (I actively decrease my supply so I’m almost out). I also keep a notebook – which is annoying as things duplicate the paper pad lists, and all that, but the A4 sheets work better at work, and the little notepad in the handbag and for out and about. I do list chores – cause at work I think of them. More than chores though, DIY tastes, like removing the vent to dust it (needs unscrewing). I did use my phone, but the synching was having issues, so i’ve abandoned it. I use a calendar for anything date based – RSVPs, upcoming regular bills, events and the like. Without TV I don’t procrastinate, but once I get hooked on a show or something, i can be unproductive til it grates at my nerves.

    • I also use scrap paper at work and a tiny notebook in my purse. I use the Evernote app for a few lists such as “things I always buy at Costco” and I also have a menu planner app that’s linked to a grocery list. My procrastination usually ends when there is clutter I can’t stand to look at any more, for example, I’ll leave a shirt out to remind myself to sew a button on it, and sooner or later I can’t stand to look at it any more, so it gets done!

  2. I keep a running to-do list on my phone or in a little notebook, and I’ll usually update it at night, adding all of the things that I want/need to accomplish the next day / in the near future. I put mostly everything on there (even things that I’d do anyways, like eating breakfast) so that I can have a clear idea of what my day will look like – and to get the satisfaction from crossing things off my list! I’m also really visual, so it’s nice to have something to look at and refer back to when I’m sitting around wondering what I should be doing 😛 I use the calendar on my phone for some things, like appointments, but I find that I rarely forget about them, and don’t need extra reminding. When it comes to cleaning, I’ll get random bursts of motivation to clean and organize my room, and at home we clean the house (vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc) every two weeks, to make sure that things don’t get too dirty!

    • I’ve been thinking about starting a cleaning schedule because sometimes it does get deferred too long! Instead of keeping a giant to-do list, I keep a “have done” list where I note what I’ve actually done each day (with no comparisons to what I should have done). If the list looks really short, or I skip a day, I know I’m being unproductive!

      • Yeah that’s why I like having a cleaning schedule – because otherwise I would let things get way too dirty! That sounds like a cool idea; I guess it’s more rewarding to have a list of things you’ve accomplished rather than a list of things you haven’t done yet

  3. todadwithlove

    I suppose I shall ‘fess up that I keep things in my head, procrastinate, and get to them only when they become urgent e.g., paying bills. The sequence goes something like: open envelope, check due date, put it somewhere in my vague memory, stick bill in the drawer. Thankfully, the dates do come back, or have so far, to my ruffled mind when they draw closer. Like you, though, I am prompt with things which affect my bodily comfort: shower, getting dressed, making meals, and have weekly slots for grocery shopping and laundry. And, of course, there is work, which I do, no, HAVE to, get to. Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks, Vera! I suppose I don’t use the word “procrastinate” unless there is stress involved. For example, if I set the bills aside and I know they’ll get paid on time, I don’t consider it procrastinating. But if I delay renewing my driver’s license until the day it’s due, then it is procrastinating, and it’s stress-out time!

  4. I’m such a messy list maker. I have lists: on random post its, in my iPhone, in my dayplanner, on random scraps of papers, in a small notebook I keep with me, and on my computer. Clearly, I need a more efficient system!

    • I am like that too. I am debating whether it’s realistic for me to have an all-inclusive system. I was reading lately that one of the biggest problems with remembering tasks (or any information) is that you simply assume you will remember. If you don’t have a system, you very well may not remember, and it may be so far from your mind that you don’t realize you had ever thought of it!

  5. EcoCatLady

    I suck at lists. I sometimes make them, but generally I lose them before I can cross anything off the list! Or if I’m really careful about keeping the list I end up with a problem where things get crossed off the bottom but then I go on to page 2 and something undone from page one gets lost in the shuffle. Mostly I just keep things in my head, which works for stuff I care about, but the stuff I’d rather not think about like car registration, emissions tests, property taxes, insurance forms, etc, etc, all ends up strewn across my desk creating a total disaster. For really important things, or anything that has a date attached to it like an appointment I use Microsoft Outlook, but anything open ended is in the danger zone for me…

    I’m curious about how you manage to deal with the mail as soon as you get home. Does that mean that if there’s a bill in there you sit down and pay it the instant you get home? What do you do with things that need attention but can’t be accomplished at that very moment? I’m asking because this is my downfall… Stuff like that always ends up in a pile where it can get forgotten. I’ve tried making “deal with it” piles or lists, or having an “in box” but as soon as it’s out of sight it’s out of mind. So the only thing that ever works for me is taping the thing across my computer monitor so I’m forced to deal with it before I can do anything else!

    • Oh, I’m not that instantaneous. All mail is opened as soon as I get in the door, and sorted into paper recycling, shredding, or a to-do pile. The items that need attention get stacked next to the computer and dealt with in due course. So, no, I’m not that good! But I have improved at filing things once they are paid/dealt with.

      I used Outlook tasks a few years ago but I actually found it made me anxious when it carried over undone tasks from one day to the next – paper lists don’t nag you like that! (Of course, that is the whole point of using a calendar-based system).

  6. Post it notes, scrappy bits of paper, scribbling in little note books, I’m an old fashioned list maker. If it’s something I must not forget, I’ll stick notes on my mirror, or even on my steering wheel!

  7. Juhli

    I’ve got a combination of multiple paper lists and Outlook tasks to remind me of things like birthdays or making dr appointments. Now that I am retired I procrastinate like crazy on things I don’t like to do.

  8. I’m big on routines (clean house/laundry Saturday morning, gas fill-up on Monday, etc.), so I rarely make to-do lists for things at home unless there’s something out of the ordinary (like hosting a party). If it’s a routine, I can force myself to do something I have no motivation for, but to-do lists are usually about half done at best before I start putting things off to a later time or the next day. At work, I make a two-part list every morning (during my first 10-15 minutes) of what MUST be accomplished before I can leave that afternoon and what should be done, but can wait until tomorrow. Sometimes I need a little time crunch to complete dreaded tasks 🙂

  9. I occasionally make lists, but I think I keep most of them in my head. I try to keep up with stuff as it needs doing, like you. I clean the kitchen after we eat (or the kids do), run the dishwasher at night, put a load of laundry in and hang it out at night, tidy up after we are done in a room. It keep sthings from piling up too much. Occasonally a list is needed when were are trying to get organized for something big.

  10. Fiona

    I’ve read GTD and loved it. *Everything* gets written down somewhere or it simply flies off my radar – I’m bvery probe to organisational meltdowns! I have phone lists mainly, supplemented by a paper Calendar at home and a paper Diary at work (used jointly with my job share partner.)

  11. I keep most of my stuff in my head, and somehow don’t think that’s the best system because it means I think about it too much! Thanks for the link to Getting Things Done – I think I’ll see if the library has it.

  12. I make paper lists (in a notebook). I have a Master To-Do list (for just about everything!), and then make a daily list for tasks/goals etc.I pretty much try to follow Leo’s system from The Power of Less for main items.
    I use my iphone calendar for birthdays and appointments, gmail tasks for blog related stuff and annual bill reminders.

  13. My “system” is simply a small notebook and a pen. Ive tried digital organization systems and they dont seem to work for me–Im definitely a pen and paper girl! I just keep a running list of things to do and update it daily.

    • It sounds like you have your system down pat; better than having notes and scraps everywhere, I think! (Since you remember to use the notebook, you don’t need visual reminders).

  14. I like the satisfaction of ticking things off a list, so I have a to do list for each day of errands/household tasks etc to do. I don’t tend to put things that are routine (such as doing the washing up) unless I am feeling really unmotivated! I am trying to make more tasks habits that I do automatically- it saves brain space thinking about them! I find the to do list stops me worrying about things I might forget.
    I have a seperate list of knitting projects on the computer, and a notebook with other more long term house stuff in it.. I think I actually prefer having digital lists, though, as they get less messy with editing.

    • I’d like to hear more about your knitting list! Is it a wish list of things you’d like to make, a list of yarn types and colours you need, a list of gifts you intend to make for people….?

      • It’s a mixture of things…projects that I have the yarn for and need to make; presents that I have promised/want to make for Chritmas; ideas that I have in my head that I want to make a pattern for. I have all of my current projects on Ravelry, (http://www.ravelry.com/projects/bettybugg not sure if that link will worlk unless you happen to have a Ravelry account!) along with (when I get round to updating it!) my current stash of yarn…
        I am currently trying to reduce the amount of wool I have, as I would prefer to go and buy yarn for a specific project, as needed, rather than just because it is pretty, with no idea how I will use it!

      • It does look like you need a Ravelry account to have a look. It would be great to have a place to share things like that with others who “get it”!

  15. Ginger R

    I’m sorry I missed this post. A topic near and dear to me… In January I create goals for myself in an Excel spreadsheet workbook. I write out action steps for each goal. Each goal has it’s own spreadsheet. This is really more like an exercise to spur me into action. I like to check back to see the progress I’ve made. I’ve had the same goals for 2 years now. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made.

    One of my goals was to have a clean home. After retirement in 2012 – I needed a new house cleaning routine. I started following FlyLady (flylady.net) and incorporated her routines for housecleaning into my daily routines. It’s working for me.

    I created my “dashboard” – a one page chart to keep me on track. I keep it posted on the wall in the kitchen. It’s in a plastic sheet protector and I use a dry erase marker to cross off the items – so I can reuse the sheet.
    The dashboard includes:
    1. my morning, afternoon and before bed routines.
    2. a list of “hot spots” to check and clear up daily.
    3. the zone of the week with tasks to complete – 15 minutes/day. This week it’s the Master Bedroom.
    4. deskwork to complete.
    5. weekly quick housecleaning routine. 7 tasks usually done on Mondays. (Linens, waste baskets, cull magazines, mirrors, dusting, vacuum, mop.)
    6. “other projects” – change the a/c filter, water plants, set-up meds, action steps on other goals.
    7. errands: pick up scripts, drop off donations, books to library.

    My Excel workbook also includes a weekly progress report spreadsheet. I have a column for each goal – and assess the progress I’m making. I usually do this on Sunday mornings with my morning hot beverage. I give myself smiley faces – and tell myself to get it in gear.

    • Hi Ginger, Your system seems thorough and effective. I have visited the FlyLady website to see what it was all about. Housework is not one of the things I track, but I like to apply the same level of detail to other things! I’m a big fan of spreadsheets.

  16. Ginger R

    I use the HomeRoutines app also. I used it for house cleaning – then switched to my dashboard – to have it more visible. (And hubby helps more when he can see what needs doing.) I use it now for many lists other than house cleaning: Packing List; Christmas; House zone work to be done.

    • I will look it up – I could use an app for that! My spouse is in the “tell me what to do and I’ll do it” camp – it would be nice to have something posted so I wouldn’t have to give the orders!

  17. Ginger R

    Oops! I think I’ve written about my goals and dashboard already – in your posting about Mind Mapping. I do this to get my goals started. But – I don’t think I touched on my system for cleaning house. And – FlyLady and my dashboard help me make certain tasks into habits. It’s still working for me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: