A couple of years ago, I made a concerted effort to become a lot more organized in my life. Mere routine and memory weren’t enough to keep track of everything I needed or wanted to do, and with two jobs and a family, stuff was getting missed. Probably my number one challenge in my professional life has been to carry through on ideas, and when I get too spread out, project execution started to falter.
While I tried bullet journals and custom lists, what really helped put me on track was getting a task list organizer program called Wunderlist that could sync up between my computers and devices. Being able to schedule tasks and have them repeat helped to take an overwhelming amount of things to do and divide them up somewhat.
But it wasn’t enough. There were days that I’d wake up, check my task list, and see 40 or 50 to-do items on them. It was an absurd amount at times and often I’d have to prioritize and reschedule things that could be done at a later date. Having too many tasks paralyzed me and I was always tempted to take the easier jobs and ignore the harder ones.
That’s when I took a cue from MMORPGs. While some players bemoan “checklist task-based gameplay,” as I’ve seen the term, I find it immensely helpful while pursuing certain goals and storylines. Plus, it’s always been so satisfying to me to check those quest markers off and know that if I followed the list, I would eventually get to the destination I desired.
That design informed how I approach most of my work days. Once I’m up and going, I’ll open up my task list and scan through the day. If it’s too much, I’ll see what can be moved to another day. Then I’ll write down a list on a notecard next to my computer, prioritizing my goals from what needs to be done first to the last. Generally I try to put my biggest projects up at the top, because you want to get those done as soon as possible and not leave them for later (and risk procrastination).
After I do that, my decision-making process is over, and I go into MMO questing mode. The paper informs me what I’ll be doing next, and barring any new developments, that’s what I do. I don’t avoid tasks on that list, I don’t reorder them, I just work from top to bottom as efficiently as I can.
By the end of most of my work days, the list is done and I’ve managed to plow through a whole ton of jobs. Sometimes these are partial steps toward a much larger goal that I’m gradually working toward (for example, for three weeks running, every day I had “15 minutes of office packing” to prepare for a repainting/recarpeting effort).
And not every task is strictly work-related. One of my goals is to do something romantic for my wife every day. Doesn’t always have to be huge, but I want to make sure I’m working on our relationship and putting love into action daily. Or I’ve split the household cleaning into five days’ worth, putting one or two rooms as an objective each day.
I’m still busy every day, but you know what? Things get done. Stuff gets missed a lot less now. And I usually end up with a nice amount of free time in the evenings to spend with family and on other fun things. So thank you, MMO quest checklists, for helping my life a little bit.