Creative To-Do Lists

To-do lists can nag you or make you crazy. There are many ways to handle them, and the one I learned in the corporate world is my least favorite: I was taught to create three columns, one for most important, one for medium important and one for things that are good to get done sometime this week. Didn’t work for me, although it must have good uses for some people.

First, I have to admit that I use a paper to-do list. Yes, I have post-its on my Mac. Yes, I have a calendar that lets me generate a to-do list. But for the same reason I keep a paper calendar, I use a paper to-do list. It’s easier for me.

Here are two ways to use a to-do list. Both involve 3 x 5 index cards, or 4 x 6 cards if you write big.  (I turn the cards and work on them portrait-orientation.) I work on several projects at a time, so I use one card per project. Each project’s name is written on the top of the card, and the to-do list underneath. That way, I can put all the project to-do lists next to each other and see how much work I have and which project needs to take priority. When I have a lot of projects going at the same time, it’s wonderful.

color coded index cardsWhen I get really into projects, I assign one color to each project, and color code the cards to match the project. (You can also use different color cards.) Color coding gives me overviews and helps me draw conclusions faster. (“A lot of blue cards, do I need to farm some of this out?” “The yellow project is due in a week. Why so few yellow cards? Am I done early, or is there something missing?”)

Then there is the worry list to-do list. When I wake up at night, unable to sleep and busy worrying, I make a list of things I’m worrying about. Having written down the worries, I go back to sleep. The next morning, I tackle the things that need to be done.

The last to-do list is called the tag-cloud to-do list. Because I use the same method as tag clouds–the more important a task, the bigger I write it. Because I have small handwriting, I draw a box around each item on the list. The bigger the box, the more important (or worrisome, or pressing) the item. That gives me two facts at once: the item and the importance, all in one glance.

You can use a mix of these methods. Color-coding works with tag-clouding very well.  Tag-clouding works with worry-list well, too. And no matter what method I choose, writing down all the things that need to get done helps me free up more memory cells.


–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a trainer specializing in communicating. That includes Writing for the Web and Giving Powerful Presentations. See all the topics at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Creative To-Do Lists

  1. I agree! Although I have a blackberry with a full keyboard, I love a paper calendar. I tried to use a PDA as a calendar, but missed the writing. I love to write on my calendar and cross things out a to-do list. I’m trying now a 3-ring binder calendar (personal size) for the first time, and it has been wonderful. I can add pages wherever I need to. I got blank dividers and set up my own categories, which are: schedule, Payments, To-do, Birthdays, Notes, Shopping list, projects. I use the A-Z index only to file things I might need on the go: W – Wines, G – Gift Ideas, M- Movies to watch, B- Books to read, P-Passwords, S-Store Hours, and so forth.
    I use my blackberry for daily and/or quick reminders, such as: “take vitamins”, put trash out”, “get a plastic bag for car”, “sharp red pencil” and stuff like that.
    On my to-do list, I draw a cross along the sheet, making 4 tables, then I write on the top of each: at computer, at home, call, errands. The priority type does not work for me. I just would love to have a water-resistant paper and pen, since so many of my ideas come when I’m in the shower!!!

    —Lots of idea, and a great website, too. They actually make water-resistant paper, they sell it at hiking stores. I finally just purchased a china marker (also called a grease pencil) and write on the tiles. Alcohol takes it off just fine, as does Tilex. I’m a big fan of index cards, too, but not in the shower! -Q

  2. huh–I do a to-do list, too, but mine is on my PDA–you can add categories and sort by category or priority or due date.. hadn’t thought of adding worries to the categories but it makes sense and gives me another couple of free brain cells! Thanks Quinn!

    —I tried a PDA, but it is so satisfying to have a paper list that you can cross things off of, and write things on. Just old-fashioned i guess. Though I love the yellow virtual sticky notes that my Mac has. -Q

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