The Art of List Making

As mentioned last week, I am honored to have a number of tremendous Project Managers contributing to Kelly’s Contemplation for several weeks.  Steve Hart kicked off this series of guests posts with a wonderful piece on lessons learned and this week Lindsay Chaffee brings another excellent post…The Art of List Making.  I am not going to delay any further….here is Lindsay’s post:

Driving home in the car with my four year old daughter is always a good time for interesting conversations. A few weeks ago, during our drive home, my daughter asked me what she was good at. I’m not sure what prompted this question, but I started listing off many of the things that she excels at. I told her that she is a good friend, she’s good at listening in dance class, she is a good helper in the kitchen when I’m cooking etc… All of a sudden from the back seat of the car she pipes up and yells out “Mommy you are really good at making lists!!” Hmmm. At first I thought “of all of the things she could think of, THAT’S what popped into her head?” Then I started thinking about it and you know what? She is right. I AM good at making lists. In fact, I am very good at making lists!

I know you are now wondering how my little story relates to Project Management, right? I obtained my PMP certification in 2009 and during my training I learned about all of the many things a project manager needs to do for a project. In all of the classes that I took, no one ever discussed HOW to accomplish everything – just that it all needs to be done. (With the caveat that every project is different and it is up to the discretion of the project manager to identify the items that need to be accomplished for each individual project.) This is where the topic of list making comes into play. There are many tasks a project manager must perform for a project. Remembering what and when to do these tasks is critical to the success of each and every project. Making lists can help manage a project manager’s time as well as help focus on critical items.

If you are anything like me, time is always at a premium. That is why managing my time is one of the most important aspects of my day. In order to manage my time most effectively, I utilize lists. Lists enable me to first obtain a clear picture of what I need to accomplish. Secondly, a list enables me to view my agenda and set my priorities appropriately. Why does this matter? Because as a project manager, I have many tasks to do and can easily get side tracked by an email or phone call. Little things may come up that pull me away from something more important. A list helps me stay focused on what is truly necessary and serves as a reminder for those items that I may forget about. Those little things that come up are added, as necessary, to my list to be a part of the entire prioritization effort. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I ignore those ad hoc, quick items either. It just allows me to think about each of them further and determine if it is really within my best interest to respond immediately or not.

My favorite way of creating a working list is to set aside a little bit of time every morning and writing out everything that I need to do. From there I review my items and determine the priorities by asking myself the following questions:

  • What do I absolutely NEED to finish before I leave for the day?
  • What SHOULD I try to finish today if I have time?
  • What can WAIT until tomorrow (or another day)?

Based on my response to each of those questions I can get a pretty clear picture of what I need to focus on that day. I review my list at the end of the day to ensure I have completed my highest priorities and have an idea of where my list is going to start the next day. I also spend time on Friday afternoons to plan out my upcoming week; it makes my Monday mornings easier to jump into. Obviously there are items that come up throughout the day and there are times when I need to completely reprioritize my list, but having everything written down allows me to easily keep track of items that may be de-prioritized to work on at a later time.

There are now many applications and programs available for creating and managing lists. That said; I am a big fan of using a pen and paper for my lists. This doesn’t mean that I shun technology (I work for a technology company) it just means that I find managing my lists “manually” is the best way for me. If you are going to utilize a list, you need to find out what works best for you. By making sure you find the best way to manage your list(s) you will be much more likely to use your list(s) and manage your work in this manner.

Some people are more inclined toward list making than others, but learning to use lists to manage your work and priorities can be done. If you spend a little bit of time and effort forcing yourself to use lists, you will come to see the benefit and become better at it. If you don’t currently use a list to manage your work/projects, think about it and give it a try; you may just find them to be invaluable!

Lindsay Chaffee is an Implementation Project Manager for a financial software company, that started her IT career as a Business Analyst.  She began working as a PM in 2005 and in 2009 received her PMP certification and hasn’t looked back.  Lindsay currently lives in the foothills of Colorado and loves to be outside.  She is proud mom and avid reader that will not be found without her nook – “we’re inseparable!”

Connect with Lindsay on Twitter and checkout her blog


4 thoughts on “The Art of List Making

  1. Hey thanks for sharing! Your ideas are very useful and I agree task lists are art. I used to manage my tasks in calendar notebooks that helped me to organize but I wasn’t able to establish priorities and deadlines. In my company we are using and through this software I discover that I’m able to get things done much faster and on time. It’s pretty awesome, even if you are not a big fan of technology I suggest you to give it a try.

  2. I agree and creating task list for every small task does help in staying organised. I often use the P1, P2, P3 prefixes to define my task priorities but idea is the same. This obviously makes a note taking utility a very critical tool for a PM. I like to use Evernote or Tomboy (Ubuntu) for the purpose.

  3. Great post Lindsay! Especially liked your approach to prioritization. So many people create tasks and to do lists that capture everything they need to do, but lack proper prioritization. That ends up being one big bucket list (and good luck with that) or a list with too many competing priorities. I like your 3 criteria.

  4. I totally knwo what you mean with this “no one ever discussed HOW to accomplish everything” — happens all the time… people explain what needs to happen but never how you do that.

    And as for the 3 questions you ask yourself, these are critical to getting things done and making lists actually valuable. I like how you explained this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s