Organising Part Two: My To-Do List and Planning System

Following on from Wednesday’s post, here’s how I sort out my day and keep track of all the things I need to get done as a house-spouse/parent/writer/awesome Crunchy Squirrel.

My daily To-Do list used to be miles long and I never got anything done. After I discovered the 4 Hour Work Week, though, I promptly switched to the uber-short list recommended there. Here’s what some previous To-Do’s I wrote look like:

To-Do lists

This is the main use my 3″ square Post-its get. I write with Sharpie, Connector pen, or some other chunky marker. This serves two purposes.

  1. It’s easy to see the list from across the room.
  2. It ensures I can only write down 3-4 items, tops.

Every evening I look at my planning board and the kitchen calendar, and find out the Raccoon’s plans to decide what needs my focus the next day. Then I write those tasks down. I’m after the few highest-impact things here – the 20% of the work that will produce 80% of the results. A key thing I try to keep in mind is, “if I only manage to finish one of these tomorrow, will I be happy with my day?”

Sometimes I’m lucky to get even one thing done. For instance, this last week has been particularly non-productive – the left-most list has been recycled three days in a row. And I still haven’t watched the bike video from the right-most list (that one is almost a week old). It’s just the way things go, sometimes. Looking after Chipmunk and the Raccoon is ALWAYS my top priority, and if either one is having a hard day, pretty much everything else gets scrubbed.

So that covers my daily To-Do list. What about task capture and processing?

I’ve tried a few different things over the years. My best success was with Final Version by Mark Forster, but writing things down in a notebook or on a sheet of paper just doesn’t work very well for me. It’s too easy for me to misplace a notebook or just ignore it in favour of fun things. I need things right in front of me. It’s the same reason my house management binder is sadly neglected – stick something in a book and I can file it away, never to be seen again.

I finally caved and went super visual to keep me on track. This is my current planning wall in the lounge room. Most of the captions are pretty self-explanatory. I may change the set-up in the future, but for now it’s working pretty well.

To-Do and Planning Board01

Up top is my overview area. It keeps my “life categories” top of mind, with colour codes. Orange is Writing Tasks, yellow is Household Tasks, and so on. The top also gives me a space to put super-urgent tasks or updates. Or just fun/inspirational quotes.

“Routines” on the top left currently holds my kettlebell workout, my stretching routine, and a reminder list for the backend blog housekeeping. The workout and stretching routines are currently in the testing phase – these lists are constantly changed as I try out different exercises. Once I find a routine I’m happy with, I’ll save a copy in Evernote, create a routine on Fitocracy, and start something else in the testing phase. I only do two “testing projects” at a time. Otherwise it’s too easy to get off track with the experimentation.

There are a few rules embedded in the use of the boards. I adapted most of them from Mark Forster’s systems.

  • The tasks on my main To-Do list MUST be completely finished (or as close as I can get) before I go to the task board.
  • I scan the tasks and pick up to three. These get moved to my desk and worked on (see below). Then I pick another three and work on them. Note that I rarely get through even the first round of tasks, as my main To-Do’s tend to take a lot of time.
  •  All tasks are worked “for as long as I feel like it”. If they’re completed they go in the “completed tasks” pile. If left unfinished they get stuck back on the board to be worked on another day.
  • There’s a finite amount of space, which means a finite amount of tasks can be added. Using the 1 ½” x 2″ stickies, that’s about 25 per section. If a board becomes full, old tasks must be either completed or abandoned before new ones can be added.
  • Where possible, make specific tasks instead of general ones. For example, “sweep and mop floors” and “Tidy kitchen benches” are better than just “do housework”.
  • Shorter tasks are better than longer projects, but at its heart this system is for capturing everything – shoulds, musts, want-to’s and more. So don’t overthink a task before adding it – it can always be broken down later, or if it’s a REALLY big project, given a planning board all of its own.

My original plan was to hang a couple of whiteboards to stick the Post-it notes on. Sadly, I’ve yet to find anything the right size for the doors. So I’ve blu-tacked several laminated pages up. Why use them at all? Because a whiteboard, glass window, mirror, or smooth plastic lets you reposition Post-it notes almost indefinitely. It’s also great for planning large projects or mind mapping.


Hopefully this post has given you some ideas for your own planning and organising efforts. Remember, the best system in the world is the one you’ll actually use. So feel free to steal and adapt any of the above.