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I’ve been making lists since long before I could write. When I was a toddler, my mother, brother and I spent a winter living with my maternal grandparents in Klamath Falls, Oregon. There’s a lot of snow in the winter in Klamath Falls.

My brother and me, about a year after the "hat, coat, boots" winter

My brother and me, about a year after the “hat, coat, boots” winter

“Hat, coat, boots,” I announced to whichever adult was around. I knew I needed to suit up with at least this much paraphernalia to go play outside, and I had the list down pat.

That’s the first list I ever made, though I don’t remember making it. But it’s part of our family lore.

Later, in college, I made lists each month of all the assignments I had due—one line on a notebook page for every day of the month. In law school, I followed the same routine.

When I went to work as an attorney, I kept detailed project lists—each lawsuit or contract or other matter was a project. I kept my list in an Access database that I could feed into WordPerfect with a macro, so I could produce it in memo format with a few keystrokes. My project lists were usually the first to be turned in each month.

I also used the WordPerfect Office To-Do feature, which permitted priority levels of 1 to 99. But that was for my own use. I never turned that list in.

Then I moved into Human Resources roles and had to leave WordPerfect Office behind and shift to Microsoft Word. I had to revert to paper to-do lists for a while. Somehow I managed.

When I got Lotus Notes a few years later, I used the Tasks feature religiously. I think it only had three or four priority levels, but that seemed adequate, particularly since I could categorize the tasks as well as prioritize them.

I kept a task item for each project with notes on the immediate next steps for that project. I kept more task items for each of my direct reports and another for my boss, and added to those items anything I needed to talk to each person about. It made preparing for staff meetings much easier.

At the end of each month, I printed out the completed items, which gave me a list of what I’d done that month. I saved those to use in preparing my performance review at the end of the year.

But all through my working career, I supplemented my computer project lists with paper lists. I usually had an index card or Post-It (or several) somewhere in my notebook with lots of items jotted down, so I wouldn’t forget a thing. After all, I needed some reminder to add each issue to my computerized to-do list.

When I retired, I had to develop a new list system. For a while I used Microsoft Outlook. I had obtained that program for free as part of a Microsoft Office suite. But when I got a new computer and a new version of Microsoft Office, Outlook didn’t come with it. So now I use a combination of Google Tasks and Toodle-Do. I put specific tasks for the day in Google Tasks on my Google Calendar. I use Toodle-Do as a project manager, with an item for each of my many projects and committees and other activities.

The secret to all these computerized lists is that they are easy to change! When I don’t get something done, it doesn’t continue to stare at me accusingly as it does on a paper list. I blithely move its due date to sometime in the future, and try for greater productivity another day.

IMAG1110But I still use paper lists, too. Here’s my current paper list that covers about ten days, with day by day specifics of what I hope to accomplish. (You’ll see yellow highlights on the undone items for past days.)

During the Christmas season, I have to make many lists and check them all twice. In addition to the list in the picture, I have a supplemental list that breaks the next few days down into tasks for morning, afternoon, and evening. I also have another list of Christmas gifts to buy and order, and a list of addresses for the Christmas cards I need to send.

I have a writer friend who is working on a short story about a man with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I sympathize with his protagonist. Surely list-making is a symptom of OCD. But how does one live without lists?

And to think my habit started with, “Hat, coat, boots.” I wish my life could be reduced to those three items now.

How do you stay organized?

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