How To Do Lists Saved My Job

by Elizabeth on June 27, 2013 · 15 comments

in How Tos, jobs, librarianship, struggles

About 18 months ago, when I was deep into another battle with depression, I had some difficulties at work.  I allowed my personal problems to affect me at work and wasn’t really doing much.  I got my work done, no one was going un-served, but I wasn’t doing anything else.  I spent lots of time playing around on the internet and reading.  And I got caught.  It wasn’t the only thing that was wrong, but for the purposes of this post, it’s the only one that matters.

In order to keep my job, I had to figure out ways to be more productive.  I’ve always been good with lists and visualization, plus I love crossing things off lists.  So my solution to my productivity problem was to do lists.  I started making to do lists every day.  I type them up because it helps me think clearly and leave extra boxes so I can add things as the day goes on.  Unless I finish the whole list (which rarely happens), I keep the list and use it to build my list the next day.

When I first starting making my lists, I made overarching lists for the week to help me stay focused.  That way I always had stuff to put on my day-to-day lists and I had place to add new tasks and ideas as they came to me.

to do lists

And it worked.  My productivity level shot up, so did my usage statistics.  And, once I started on some new meds, so did my mood.  Within 6 months, I was no longer in danger of losing my job and the library was really starting to transform.  All because of to-do lists. 🙂

These days I still make to do lists almost every day.  Summer is a very slow time in my library and without my to do lists, I could easily fall back into some bad habits.  Making a list in the mornings helps me brainstorm; I get some of my best ideas that way.  And it helps me lay out my day so that I don’t over budget my time and end up with too much to do.  That never ends well for my anxiety levels. lol

What about you?  Are you a list maker?  How do you stay focused and motivated at work?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James June 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Thank you for this, Liz. I’m really having a hard time getting anything done at work, and it’s really going to get me if I don’t break my routine. How do you figure out what are reasonable things to put on a list? Every time I try to make one, it gets way out of hand with tasks that are not realistic.


2 Elizabeth June 28, 2013 at 7:12 am

I always start out with the things that have to get done that day. Like I round on Monday and Wednesdays, and then I have to get the articles and doing the research that comes up after. I always put the simple, small stuff on there too (like checking ILL and eating lunch) because it takes time and I don’t want to over plan my day.

When I first started this, I kept a weekly to do list that I began Friday afternoon with all the stuff that didn’t get done during the week and updated it Monday morning with everything I wanted to do that week. After you do that, you can pick and choose what tasks you have time for each day. Combine that with the things you have to do, and you come up with a pretty realistic list of things you can do per day.

It also helps to break large projects down into smaller steps, and put each step on your list. You can do only a few small things each day, so you don’t get overwhelmed or tired of that project.

Make sense?


3 Mel June 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I LOVE making lists and I need them at work as well as everyday life. But I’ve found that I get tired of keeping up with them regularly over a long period of time. Now I switch between loose leaf paper, post-its, notebooks, my planner, and an app on my iPad.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t find that one magical single method, which is fine. Keeps things interesting and open to experiment and change, and thus (hopefully) improvement.


4 Elizabeth June 28, 2013 at 7:14 am

I agree; there isn’t always a one best way. I like starting over with a fresh list each morning because I can’t stand things that are jumbled or look messy. That’s also why I type them up. It’s so nice and neat that way. A pretty list is a not stressful list. 🙂

I tried a few iPad apps but couldn’t find one I loved…what are you using?


5 Mel July 2, 2013 at 7:28 am

Right now, I’m using AwesomeNote (I think, it’s the paid version). I like that I can schedule regular events to repeat regularly and keep all sorts of lists in general.

I like to write a fresh list each day as well. It helps remind me of the things I haven’t done yet. I also have a stationery and pen obsession. And I’ve been trying to improve my handwriting.


6 Amber June 28, 2013 at 9:03 am

I really, really need to do this. Combine untreated ADD (why can’t they make pregnancy-safe medication!?) and pregnancy brain, along with my normal scatterbrainedness, and I’m just all over the place. I try to write things down as they come to me, but I’m usually in the car or bathroom, and I write them on post-its, so I have a mountain of undated post-its that are lost in the disaster that is my desk (imagine my room & C’s room in College and that is what my office looks like right now. It’s sad.). I need to get it together.


7 Elizabeth June 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

My mom calls and leaves herself voicemails at work all the time. It’s easier than post-its she says. I send myself emails from my phone as I think of things too.

Try keeping a master running list of all the things you need to do, and then break it down into smaller lists for each day. So you have a place to put everything but not get overwhelmed everyday.


8 Pattie @ Olla-Podrida June 28, 2013 at 11:14 am

I am an avid list maker, so much so, that making a list of the following day’s chores has become a nightly ritual. I’ve had such a miserable couple of years that this is the only thing, I’m convinced, that keeps me going.


9 Amelia June 28, 2013 at 12:25 pm

My problem is that I’ll make a list and then forget about the list.

On my desk at work I have a pad called Stuff to Do! and I used to write everything down on there, but it got messy. Then I went to NJLA and someone presented on Wunderlist and I’ve been using it for almost a month now and love it. Web and apps, so I keep the web version open on my desktop and downloaded the app to my phone and ipad. I’m using it now to keep track of School work, Netgalley books, Book Orders for work, and work tasks. I still use the pad for day to day things I need to remember.


10 Elizabeth June 30, 2013 at 6:18 pm

So you think this is a better option for you? I have trouble having multiple lists; something always gets left off.


11 Wendy June 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

In late 2011 my library system went through the first stages of a “reorganization” – which is a fancy word for Wendy now does the work that used to be done by two full-time employees. I made myself truly insane for about 3 months, and then was maybe just marginally insane for 9 months after that. I was pretty good at keeping that to-do list mentally – but with the addition of new duties? Yeah, not so much.

Keeping a to-do list really helped me better focus on “big picture” tasks that I needed to get done. I do OK with the little day-to-day tasks – but if I have several on-going projects on the table – oh man, I need that list. Or else I get distracted by The Shiny, and stuff falls through the cracks and I’m scrambling at the last minute. Which inevitably means I bring “work baggage” home with me – and that just blows…..


12 Elizabeth June 30, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Oh “work baggage”…that usually ends up with me having to jump out of the shower or get out of bed to write something down because I’ll worry so much that I won’t be able to focus on anything else.


13 Jean July 1, 2013 at 11:42 am

I do so much better when I make a list. For a while, I was on a kick making a list of 7 things to accomplish before 11a.m. but somewhere along the way I fell off the list making bandwagon again. I guess I should put remember to make a list on my list?


14 Mandi @ Life Your Way July 4, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Love this, Elizabeth! To-do lists really do make all the difference! {I’m so glad you were able to overcome your depression as well.}


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