Time Management and Using Lists


In a prior blog, I made the point that one of the inescapable elements of time management was a step that comes after Emptying, called Listing.

Listing: placing a time demand on a list for later use.

There are many ways in which lists can be used to temporarily store information related to time demands. All of the ones that I can think of are valid, yet all cannot be used by a user that wants to retain some semblance of sanity.

To quickly review, a time demand is born when it is “captured” in memory, on paper, in an inbox or some or other location. It is “emptied” at some moment in time when it is either stored, discarded, put into a calendar, acted on immediately or put into a list.

The purpose of Listing is to place the time demand in some location from which it can be reliably retrieved at a time that satisfies the user.

There are many ways to organize lists, and there are only a few that are required because they serve a particular and unique functions:

  • Next Activity List: a list of all items that are ready to be executed immediately, and are on the list waiting for an appropriate time-slot
  • Someday List: a list of all items for which there is an interest in executing someday, but not immediately
  • Waiting For List: a list of all items that are awaiting some critical input before being executed
  • Thinking About List: a list of all items that are being worked on in the background from time to time

The user must develop a strategy for reviewing these items — some more frequently than others. Each person’s approach to these lists will be different, but their importance lies in the fact that they each play a different but important role in managing time demands.

Other kinds of lists that are variations of the Next Activity List can also be arranged according to different criteria:

  • a Meeting List — items to be discussed in various meetings
  • a Conversation List — items to be brought up in the next conversation with an individual
  • a Location List — items to be looked at when in the Office, At Home, At Church etc.
  • a Daily List — items to be scheduled on particular dates in the future
  • a Browse List — items to be browsed on the internet
  • a Shopping List — items to be purchased
  • a Call List — people to call
  • a Vacation List — stuff to do on vacation
  • a Project List — a list of activities to be done on a project

The list of Lists is an endless one.

The danger of lists is that they can easily grow to be unmanageable, and when they get to that point, they are impossible to work with. At this point, the user can start feeling guilty, overwhelmed or tired from the contents on the list.

Each list is best managed with a limit — a number of items beyond which it should not grow. The only exception to this rule is the Someday List, which some users are comfortable growing as large as their imagination will permit.

These lists must be used on conjunction with the Calendar in a careful balance. When the lists get so large that they are not being used, there is a problem, and where they are not being used at all, that creates a different problem also.