Updated on February 4, 2022
Project Organize: Master List. Learn how to make and use a master list (sometimes called a brain dump) to be more productive and get more done.
If you are new to organizing or are feeling overwhelmed with life, these posts are a great place to start to get you on the right track.
How to Use a Master List
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.
Plan on decluttering your entire home? Want to finally get the kid’s rooms in order? Need to clear off your kitchen counters?
Most of us have to-do lists a mile long. Using a master list and pulling a few items from it each day, rather than trying to write all of my to-dos in my planner, helps to keep me sane. And as a bonus, I stay motivated because I am getting things done. Does anyone else find it super satisfying to cross things off a list?
What is a Master 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. It is also sometimes referred to as a “brain dump” for this very reason.
Getting it all out on paper helps me to prioritize and move on with what 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 (you can use the lined paper in your planner, a notebook, a journal, a sheet of paper, or whatever you have on hand) and start writing.
I like to use a section in my planner so that way I always have my master list with me.
Write out everything that comes to mind. 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 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 . . . “.
Take Your List for a Walk
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.
Next, gather up all your post-it notes and scraps of paper and write those on the list as well. Have a notes app on your phone? Check that, and add anything you may have recorded there, as well.
Don’t get discouraged by how much you have to do. 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!
How to Be Productive with a Master List
Now you have your master list with everything you feel like you need to do in one place.
Eliminate Items You Can’t Get Done in the Next Month
Go through the list and see if there is anything on there that you know you will never do. Cross those items off – GUILT FREE! Many of us put completely unrealistic expectations on ourselves to do too much, and something has to give.
Note: I like to use a highlighter to mark items off in both my planner and my master list. This way I can go back and still read them if I need to reference anything, but it is a visual cue to me that the task is complete.
If there are things on the list you know you can’t complete in the next month, but still need to be done at a later time, transfer them to a separate list. I call this my “Someday List”. This gets those tasks out of my head, but also out of sight for now, so I can focus on what I need to do now.
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?
- Create a chore list where your kids can earn a little extra money helping you out. Or add them to your kids regular responsibilities. No one should have to care for a home alone.
- 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!
Prioritize the Remaining Tasks
Now you will be left with a list of things you, yourself, need to get done. But, not all of the items are a top priority. Everything may feel like it is, but most are not.
If you don’t believe me, think about how long each of those items has 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, 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 you add to your to-do list from the master 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 listing and completing only a few tasks from your master list each day, you will start to feel a great sense of accomplishment that you are getting things done. This is hugely motivating!
Only having a few extra tasks to focus on each day helps to cut down on feelings of being overwhelmed 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 will hopefully have all ten tasks completed.
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 its own task.
Using the Master List on a Regular Basis
Once you complete your top ten items on your list, go through the list again marking items of importance from 1 – 10, 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!
Help! I am a Digital, not Paper Planner
Many of us don’t carry a paper planner with us, but almost all of us use a smartphone and have it on us all the time. You can certainly keep the master list on your phone rather than in a paper format.
Apps that I like to use on my phone are Google Keep and Evernote. The reason I like these two apps the most is they are easy to use, can be searched easily, and can be used across all devices – android, Apple, and PCs.
- Get one year of Evernote Personal free
I used to use the Samsung notes app on my phone, but if I sat down with my iPad or my laptop, I didn’t have a way to easily access my list.
What tips do you have for staying on task and staying motivated?
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