So far in Project Organize: The Basics we have talked about where to start and how to use your planner more effectively. If you are new to organizing or need a little direction on how to get your life in order, these posts will start to get you on the right track.
In my post about how I use my planner, I briefly mentioned my “master list”. I promised to talk more about a master list and why it is so important.
Part of getting organized is knowing what needs to be done. Do you plan on decluttering your entire home? Do you want to finally get your kid’s rooms in order? Do you want to be able to clear off your kitchen counters?
Most of us have to-do lists a mile long. I find that instead of trying to write all of my to-dos in my weekly planning pages, using a master list and pulling a few items from my list each day helps to keep me sane. And as a bonus I stay motivated because I am actually getting things done. (Anyone else find it super satisfying to cross things off a list?)
So what exactly is a master list? It is a place to dump all the things you have to do out of your brain. I don’t know about you, but when I know I have a lot to do, getting it all out on paper helps me to prioritize and move on with what actually needs to get done, rather than sitting there feeling overwhelmed or jumping around from project to project not completing anything.
How do you write a master list? My suggestion is to sit at the table with a pen and paper (use the lined paper in your planner, a notebook, a journal, a sheet of paper, whatever), and start writing. I use a section in my planner so that way I always have my master list with me.
Start writing out everything you need to do. And when I say everything, I mean everything! When I do this process I include any task that I need to complete, no matter how large or small it may seem. My master list can look something like this:
- research options for new flooring
- make cake for husband’s birthday party
- go through emails and get them down to zero
- clean the baseboards in the bathroom
- fix the clothes in the mending pile
- clean out the refrigerator
- start meal planning again
- organize baking cabinet
- pick up toys in the backyard
- fix the broken fence slats
- etc., etc., etc.
So you can see there is really no rhyme or reason to the list. The purpose of the master list is to get all those nagging thoughts of, “I need to do . . . “, “I should do . . . “, “don’t forget about . . . “. Once you have written down everything you can think of, walk from room to room in your home adding anything that you didn’t think of in your original brainstorming session. Gather up all your post-it notes and scraps of paper and write those on the list as well.
Don’t get discouraged by how much you have to do. Just get it all out there and in one spot. When I haven’t done this in a while, my master list can be 2 – 3 pages long!
Now you have your master list with everything you feel like you need to do in one place. Go through the list and see if there is anything on there that you know you will never do. Cross those items off! This may seem silly, but I think many of us put completely unrealistic expectations on ourselves to do too much, and something has to give.
Note: I use a highlighter to mark items off in both my planner and my master list.
Now, go through your list again and see if there are any items you can delegate to someone else. Do you have a little extra money to have someone come in and deep clean your home? Can your husband/spouse/roommate do some of the items on your list? Can your kids help out? Can you say “no” or cancel some of the commitments that are taking up too much of your time and attention? As you figure out who else can do these tasks to help you, cross them off the list!
Now you will be left with a list (probably still fairly long) of things you, yourself, need to get done. Not all of the items are top priority. They may all feel like they are, but they are not. If you don’t believe me, think about how long each of those items have been on your mental to-do list. If it has been more than a month, those items can probably still wait.
Choose the top ten items that need your attention. Number them from 1 to 10 with one being the most important and ten being the least important. For the next week, I want you to write down anywhere from one to three of those tasks that you reasonably think you can get done each day in your planner. Many items on your to-do list will be things you need to do in addition to your normal routine. Think about how much time you have to devote to those tasks and only write down what you know you can reasonably accomplish.
If something does not get completed, transfer it to the next day. By only listing a few tasks from your master list each day, you will start to feel a great sense of accomplishment that you are actually getting things done. This is hugely motivating! By only having a few extra tasks to focus on each day you will not feel so overwhelmed by everything tugging at your time and attention.
If something ends up taking less time than you thought or you end up with an extra pocket of time to add something from your master list, by all means keep moving forward! By the end of the week you should have all ten tasks completed (and possibly more than that). If something turns out to be more involved than you originally thought, break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces on your master list. Each new small piece of the big puzzle becomes it’s own task.
Once you complete your top ten items on your list, go through the list again and start again. Number the next 10 items that are the priority, and start working your way through. Any time you think of something that needs to be done, add it to your master list. It will be an ongoing task for you to keep up with, but having one place to write it all down means less will be forgotten. You also now have a plan in place for getting it all done!
What tips do you have for staying on task and staying motivated?