From the day I started jotting down to do items on a sheet of paper, I realized that our lives are a bit more complex than an arbitrary list of seemingly important issues you came up with that random morning when you decided to become more organized.
Ideas come in permanently and in the least expected moments, they have different priorities, and some of them tie in to higher objectives, not to mention their different level of magnitude: One task may refer to buying a household item from the supermarket, while another one might be to finish a critical programming feature for your company's latest product.
That's why putting your pending items into a tool every once in a while, and hoping for your life to become more organized is usually a bad assumption. It requires a slightly more intelligent system to get all pieces into place, so that your motivation to work does not collapse under the huge amount of unfinished stuff.
Using Wunderlist as the "One list to rule them all"
My personal tool of choice has become Wunderlist, because of its simplicity and absence of features. Sometimes I wish it had more options, but then again I realize that I prefer a single-purpose tool that does one thing very well. And that's what Wunderlist does with tasks.
The first basic rule to start eliminating chaos, improving your focus and not being distracted by what your brain considers most important is to put all your pending to do list items into one single list. By putting the full stack of ongoing loops into a system and knowing that it's there you have actually taken the first step to becoming a single-minded productivity superhero.
There is probably loads of stuff in your todo list inbox. Maybe a bit overwhelming. That's why you should set up some lists that represent your core focus areas, like work, organization, finances, private or fitness related stuff. Usually it should be easy and natural to come up with a few basic lists once you have unloaded your mental clutter. This approach will make the mountain of tasks in front of you a bit more manageable.
Trash, Defer, Delegate
It's time to get rid of all the unimportant or obsolete stuff after that. Removing them will make room for what really matters. Assign each of the remaining items a due date and an additional reminder. Letting your system take care of the reminders, you can forget about and not worry about them until they pop up again. By going through this process for each item, you can completely turn of all the nagging voices in your mind that compete for your attention, knowing that they are there when they become relevant.
The daily routine
Every evening, usually after finishing work, you should review your list for the day. It frees your mind of all ongoing loops and helps you sleep without any uncompleted thoughts. By reorganizing your task list, you go through all the pending issues and plan ahead for the next day.
Sometimes I get all the tasks of a day checked off, other times I have to postpone things or split them up into smaller tasks. It is very common and even natural to not being able to anticipate everything that happens during a day: Unforeseen events can occur, and things can take longer than expected. No big deal, but we need to adapt to that, and rearrange regularly.
Scheduling your Wunderlist tasks
When you have set up your list, try to incorporate it into your calendar. If the step before made you confident about what you have to do, this one is going to make you feel in total control. Realizing how many hours there are available to you compared to what needs to get done may be a disappointing experience, but it helps you cope with reality, and avoid that we overestimate our resources.
The calendar can be anything from an analog one to your digital handheld application. The important thing is that you can line up all your todos as predefined time slots. As a rule of thumb, I would not not block more than 60% of your time to stay prepared and flexible for new and incoming stuff.
Handling incoming tasks
While you are in focus mode, you may be interrupted every once in a while. Luckily, Wunderlist has that permanently visible text field on top which adds items directly to your inbox. While on the phone or in the meeting, just jot them down, and go through them when you have a free minute. This helps you focus on your current issues without having to worry that anything gets lost in a hurry.
After having tried a bunch of different tools, Wunderlist is the one that has accompanied me the longest, and I count on it to organize almost everything, from my responsibilities at work to scheduling side projects in my free time. I hope these tips point you in the right direction to help you find the right balance between the responsibilities you have to deal with and the time that is available to you. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement. Thank you very much for reading.
Wunderlist - website of the task management tool
Wunderlist in the iOS App Store
Wunderlist in the Google Play Store
Link to the Wunderlist blog with tips and tricks on how to use the software
6 Wunderkinder - The makers of Wunderlist