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Revisiting To-Do Lists as Record Keeping

Wreck this JournalWith the end of the semester fast approaching, I’m about to switch out my nearly-empty “To-Do” notepad for a clean slate. It’s tempting to tear it up and toss it out in favor of a new year, but before I have that satisfaction I’m using these careful notes as a way to improve my organization–and hopefully my productivity for next semester!

Here at ProfHacker, everybody has their own approach to task lists and organization: Nels explains “Getting Things Done”, Jason uses Due and Recall on iOS, and Natalie uses a personal productivity system. I’ve tried just about everything, but in the end a pencil and paper list is the only thing that stays in my brain and in my bag long enough to get used.

This type of old-fashioned list can be more than just “to-dos”: Melanie Pinola offers great advice at LifeHacker on keeping a “done” list to provide motivation–however, she suggests tearing up the list at the end of the day, and I prefer to hang on to them. This semester, I tried something different with my to-do lists following similar principles. While I still use my tasks lists to remind myself of work left undone, I also add any surprises or new work that interrupted my day. Sometimes that means checking off something as soon as I complete it, transforming the to-do list from a record of intentions to a a record of actions.

I’ve been keeping all my lists of completed tasks and auditing them about every week for unexpected time sinks, inconsistent effort on priorities, and neglected long-term projects. Now I can look back on an entire semester of completed tasks and have a thorough answer to where my time went last year. There are lots of reasons to keep a clear record of your work, especially if you have annual reports or a tenure box to organize. Reviewing the to-do lists from last semester has given me some great reminders of things I need to write down for my annual report, update for my CV, or follow-up on to discover what happened to a collaboration or project.

Do you use to-do lists or another method of keeping track of work intended and completed? How do “audit” your end-of-semester progress? Share your methods in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User sushivina]

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