“To Do” Lists Help Writers Get Things Done

If writing a “to do” list sounds like one more thing to do, it is. But if you’re a writer, it may be one of the most useful things you can do. I keep a total of three “to do” lists for my writing—a long-term project list, a weekly goals list, and a daily task list. They take a little time to write, but I couldn't be a writer without them.

My long-term project list is the longest of the three. I write a new project list every season. Starting with my "active projects" (those I’m currently working on), I jot down each project, along with its status (waiting for reply from magazine, finishing final draft, etc.) and possible markets or deadlines. Next come the "future projects" (those I haven’t started), which often consist of mere ideas. Then I list any non-writing tasks I plan to complete in the next few months, like subscribing to a blog or joining a writing group. My project “to do” list is neatly typed, placed in a folder, and set aside for easy access.

My second "to do" list is a handwritten list of weekly goals. I keep a 6 x 9 notebook, with each page devoted to a week. Every Friday, I draft a new list of things to do for the upcoming week. My weekly list usually contains five to ten items, things like doing research for an article, writing a query letter, and preparing an outline. I keep the notebook on my desk, open and with a pen for checking items off.

Finally, I write my daily task list on a sticky note pad. If I have many tasks to complete in a day, this list comes in really handy. On it I scribble everything I need to do that day—make a phone call, send an email, write a first draft, mail a submission—and put it in a spot where I can’t miss it, like on my computer screen or desktop.

As you might guess, I refer to my long-term project list when creating my weekly goals list and my weekly goals list when creating my daily task list—which makes the whole process of writing my "to do" lists pretty simple and smooth. And the payoff? They help keep me organized, disciplined, focused, and on track. Even better, they make me productive.

Sure, writing a "to do" list is one more thing to do, but it's a task I can't afford not to do.

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