The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Get OrganizedWe live in a society where we are constantly being bombarded with information. If your boss isn't asking you to reformat an excel sheet, then you are being nagged by your girlfriend or wife to take out the trash. When you think about it, human evolution has not caught up to today's information overload environment. For thousands of years, we've been programmed to essentially be hunters and gatherers. Human evolution has not prepared us to efficiently recall all the things we need to do throughout the day. Should you not believe these words, I dare you to take out a sheet of paper and write down 10 random words. When I say random, I don't mean something like "one", "two", and so on and so forth. Try writing down five animals and five fruits. Now put that list away and then try and recall all 10 words in order in which you had them appear. Not so easy is it? Our mental capacity can only hold so much at any one point in time.
If it is truly the case that we are struggling to remember 10 or so words, how in the world are we supposed to remember what the five things we need to do after work and on top of that the 15 things we need to pick up at the grocery store? Obviously, if we are only looking at a handful of things we need to do for the day, we might just try and memorize it. Otherwise we might just make a list and write it down somewhere, right?
The problem with trying to memorize these lists is that we tend to forget them. Also, it's just another thing to keep on our minds throughout the day. If we have to constantly remind ourselves on the way home to buy milk, our brains are using energy to recall that information. We then might get worried that we'll forget to pick up milk, so we repeat it to ourselves throughout the day. What might end up happening is that we get home and totally forget to pick up that milk from the grocery store.
We might add a reminder in our cellphone to pick up milk after work or maybe we decide to write it down on a sheet of paper and put it in our pocket. Whatever the case may be, we store this information outside of the brain. That way, you don't need to constantly keep that thought in our mind and therefore we are free to think of other things. As a result, life is less stressful. Make a list of all the things you need to do and just work through that list throughout the day.
What is the Best Way to Organize Your To Do List?
Let's consider our options for a minute. Voice recorders are inefficient because you need to take the time to replay when you said. When you scribble notes on a random piece of paper, you can easily lose that. Personally, carrying around a notebook was great because I kept all of my "to dos" in one place. In addition, I was also able to add to that list throughout the day. So if I was riding the subway or the bus and I suddenly remembered I needed to pick up milk from the grocery store, I'd whip out my notebook and scribble it down. But, carrying around a big notebook can be a hassle.
The best way to organize your to-do-list is through using note-cards. Grab a stack of 3x5 inch note-cards and cut them in half. Then write down all the things that you need to do that are on your mind. In other words, empty your mind and transfer all that worry onto the note-cards. For example, your cards might read, walk the dog after work, water the plants at night, or update your blog after the developer fixes your banner.
Then organize what you need to do into categories. For example, what needs to be done today, what needs to be done this week, and what can wait. Alternatively, you can organize them by topic. For example, I had them organized by "Equity Investments", "Personal", "Random", etc. Next, take your tasks and separate them into the aforementioned categories based on urgency and priority. Take only the cards in the "needs to be done today" pile with you to work or wherever you might be going today and a stack of blank cards. You will use the blank cards to write more to do things as they come to you throughout the day.
This way you can easily flip through your cards and understand what needs to be done. Each day you can then go through your pile of cards and reorganize based on priority what needs to be done and just knock them off one by one.
If you are truly interested in learning more about this technique, I would encourage you to read more about how to get even more organized in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. This technique alone is worth the price of the book.