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Why Four To Do Lists Are Better Than One

by Joanna Norman

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I use four lists to organize my projects and get things done. This system has lowered my stress levels and increased my productivity tremendously. If you usually have a really long, detailed to do list and you get a satisfying little high from crossing things off your to do list, you might find a system like mine highly effective. If there are things you put on your to do list every day, but they somehow never get done and that causes you stress, then I would also recommend this system. 

Now, I must give credit to the folks I learned this from, April and Eric of My four list system is based on what I learned in a free course they offered. I highly recommend it!   

Let me show you the four to do lists that I have in my Rocketbook notebook:

  1. Future Project List 

This is a brain dump of any and all projects I think of. I may or may not commit to actually doing all of them. This is a place to capture my ideas. I also like it because over time I can see how many projects, large and small, I have accomplished.  When this list gets longer than a page, I capture it digitally (which is easy with the Rocketbook technology) and start over again. I divide my future project list into two columns: personal and business.

  1. Current Project List

This is a curated list of 8-10 projects that I have selected to complete in a two month period. It is divided into four categories: for me, for my family, for my business, and beyond. I select one to four projects from my Future Project List for each category, so that I have eight to ten projects that I’m focusing on for two months at a time. I update my current project every two months. If I finish all of them before two months have passed, I can always add a new one.

3. Current Project Actions

I think that this list is the key to why this system has greatly increased my productivity.  It has the same 8 to 10 projects that I selected when I created list 2, my Current Project List, but here, I have broken each project down into small steps. This list is updated every two months. 

Here is where this gets so powerful. When there is a project that I’m struggling to get started or completed, I have a good think about what is preventing me from making progress and think of the tiniest step I can to get over that hump. I create or update this list every two months.

For example, I planned to make a crocheted blanket, and I had picked out the yarn and  the pattern, but was having trouble getting started. As I thought more about it, I realized that I was unclear on how to prepare and assemble the individual pieces, and what was stopping me from starting was that I needed a tool I didn’t have, a blocking board. So the tiny steps that you see listed here are what I needed to do to build a blocking board (get skewers and assemble it). Since completing those tiny steps, I have made and blocked over 100 hexagons, so far!

4. Context-based To Do List

The last list is probably the closest thing to a traditional to do list, except that it is highly curated and specifically organized, and that is why it works so much better for me. I make this list weekly by selecting actions from list #3, Current Project Actions, and dropping each action into one of 5 categories: home, phone, computer, to discuss, and errands. Sometimes I also add actions that are not on list #3 because things like an extra errand always crop up, right? 

On this list, my action items are sorted into these five categories:

Home – Things that I do at home around the house

Phone – Any action items that are phone calls go here. You can add phone numbers here to make it really easy to make those calls.

Computer – Action items that need to be done on the computer.

Errands – Self-explanatory

To Discuss – Action items that I need to talk over with other family members.

This context-based to do list is another reason productivity is amped up from a traditional to do list. For example, if I’m waiting to pick up my daughter at school and take her to the dentist, I can hop on my phone and make any of the calls related to any of my projects (or I might choose to look out the window at the birds!). If I’m out and about, I can check my errand list to see if there are any errands nearby that I can take care of. If I’m sitting at my computer and want a short break from transcribing, I can check the computer items to see if there are any I can take care of in just a few minutes.

So there you go, my four to do lists that are better than one. If you want help implementing a system like this, check out

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Joanna,

    I can see why you are so successful. Your organization methods are clear, make sense, and help one to see what needs doing while also promoting a sense of accomplishment. I find good systems like yours motivating. Well done and very professional, as usual.


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