I Hate To-Do Lists, But I'm Still Organized AF
I hate to-do lists. There, I said it. A hustler faux-pas, I know, but I seem to always have slips of paper floating around with abbreviated tasks on them, some crossed out, some illegible; a good number of them never make it off, eventually getting cast into the abyss of the washing machine via the pockets of my jeans. But running Career Contessa requires that I get a lot done every day and that nothing falls through the cracks. Thus, my aversion list-making has forced me to find more effective ways to track my tasks and deadlines; if, like me, you’re to-do-list averse, here are some tips on staying organized without needing to ever touch a sticky note again:
Inbox by Gmail
We all love Gmail, but it’s got some competition: Inbox by Gmail. This alternative to the classic Gmail interface is new and improved, and my entire team are converts. And all because of this little thing called “bundling.” Inbox bundles messages so email chains and similar messages stay together. For example if you are working on a client project, you would tag any email that comes through as “client project.” It’s basically a folder, but you can choose to keep a bundle in your inbox for easy access.
Promotions, purchases, and travel info are automatically bundled for you. So, no more frantically trying to find your flight info as you pull up to the airport.
Does anything truly feel more satisfying than an empty inbox? Maybe a hot stone massage, but that’s about it. “Inbox zero” is an approach I learned from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It sounds super cheesy, but it works.
Don’t worry; reaching inbox zero does not mean you have to be done with ALL of your work. By “emptying” Allen means to “capture, clarify, and organize” all of the messages that land in your inbox. The organizing process works like this: Each email is either filed away...
● in the trash
● on the someday/maybe list
● in a neat reference filing system
● on a list of tasks
● immediately completed and checked off if it can be completed in under two minutes
● delegated to someone else and, if you want a reminder to follow up, added to a "waiting for..." list
● on a context-based "next action" list if there is only one step to complete it
● on your calendar
This system basically forces you to take the necessary steps to wrap up small tasks or put bigger projects into motion. Meaning I get way more done and stay perfectly organized.
Now I know I said that I don’t do to-do lists, but Wunderlist is not a regular to-do list. This app pretty much solves the problems I hate about to-do lists and the tech boost helps me stay even more organized.
Once you make your list and add to-dos, you can also rearrange them based on priority, set reminders, share your list with colleagues, sync to all your digital devices, leave detailed notes on each to-do, set due dates, add tags to organize tasks, and print the lists if you want a hard copy. The best part? When you check something off your list it makes a satisfying “ping”sound.
It may sound a little pre-teenish, but hear me out: A work journal is one of the best ways you can stay organized in your career. What is a work journal? Well, it’s a journal you keep to record all the juicy details of your work life. While you can keep track of your day-to-day to-do’s in your work journal, we recommend looking at the bigger picture.
When it comes time for your annual review, your work journal is going to be a lifesaver. Every day or week, make note of anything important that happened. Especially accomplishments or compliments. You do amazing things every day, but chances are you won’t remember everything come review time.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of what projects or tasks you enjoy/hate working on. So include what makes you unhappy or what fuels your creativity. Frequent reflection will help you target what does and doesn’t work for you. Write down critiques, too, because there is always room for improvement.
-Lauren McGoodwin is the CEO and founder of Career Contessa.