At the end of each day, I write down five things I want to do tomorrow. I use a notepad file on my PC so that I can easily cut and paste items into different the lists for different days as my priorities shift. Usually one project is writing my dissertation, but it’s something specific, like “write 3 pages of the conclusion.” One project involves planning class or grading. Another might be reading to do for the dissertation. The last two are some combination of household chores, exercise, phone calls I need to make, and errands to run.
My “5 Things” helps me have realistic expectations for the day. Even though I often don’t finish all five, it’s never impossible to do so. I make the list at the end of the day, when it’s fresh in my mind what needs to be done next. And if I think of things I need to do at random times, I put them onto my “5 Things” list, but I schedule them a few days out (or bump something off my list for the current day).
My list has been most helpful at managing my errands and life stuff not relating to work. There’s usually not more than one really important errand to do in a day. I do the most crucial task first, and schedule the rest one at a time over the next few days.
I like this system because when I wake up in the morning, my goals for the day are already defined and managable (this is better than a big, vague cloud of FEAR). Also, if something comes up (which happens a lot), I can decide at a glance what can wait and what needs to be done immediately. Sometime, I do the easiest thing first (a load of laundry, maybe), and then have the comforting feeling that there’s only four things left to do.
As I’ve mentioned, I have many types of long lists, all of which I “put away” into a bookmark on the internet or a file on my hard drive. Only this immediate, short, doable list lives on my desktop. Long lists can be overwhelming and inspire hopelessness. Even if I have a very bad work day, I can still usually get half of my 5 things done.