The Highlighter-Infused Crazy List Maker


My lists went from plain and boring to
fun and rainbow-colored.
I bet you were wondering who I might’ve been referring to by that title. *raises hand* Yup, that’s me. And I’m willing bet this is some of you as well. Though you might lean more towards the “list” part of that title and not the “highlighter-infused crazy”, am I right? 😉

I’m as guilty as ever for being so far OCD that I not only make To Do Lists for everything, but I color-code said lists. And I make no apologies. Why? Because these To Do Lists keep me and my life straight. Without them, I’d get nothing done and would end up so disorganized and discombobulated that Writer Husband would have to check me into a mental facility (though I think he’s starting to find other reasons to get me checked in).

Here’s the method to my madness:   
  • Dayjob To-Do List:
    • Title: “To Do: Week of X/X”
      • I list all items that are due to be done during the week. Then I follow-up the items with the day they’re due (usually in parenthesis). I normally start the next week’s list on Friday afternoons, and keep adding to it as more things come up during the week.
      • Then I highlight each item a color based on its due date:
        • Monday – Pink
        • Tuesday – Orange
        • Wednesday – Yellow
        • Thursday – Green
        • Friday – Blue
    • Why I run it like this:
      • On a white sheet of paper with only blue or black ink, it started to get annoying to have to actually read through every item in order to find the ones I needed to do that day. While I could’ve made a chart with a box for each day to help keep the daily due dates straight, that also took too long (and wasn’t as much fun). So by color-coding the due dates, it made it easier to seek out the pink highlights on Monday, the orange on Tuesday, and so on and so forth. (I also keep a daily day planner, but that’s slowly fallen by the wayside in favor of this To Do List)
    • Comments I’ve received on this list form coworkers (using initials to protect identities):
      • “You’re so organized!” -M <- Notice she didn't call me crazy. :)
      • “That’s actually not a bad idea. I need to start doing that.” -C <- I immediately handed this person a pack of highlighters to get 'em started.
      • “Ooo, pretty!” -V <- Why yes, definitely pretty. The list makes me smile every time I look at it.
      • “Ummm … you know you possibly might be certifiable, right?” -D <- Um, this doesn't compute.
Now, I also have two other To-Do Lists that I visit daily: Home Life and Writing Life. The Home Life is nowhere near as detailed as the dayjob, and neither is the Writing Life. But my Writing Life To-Do List can be just as complicated.

Writing Life To-Do List:
  • Title: “Get ‘Er Done!” 
    • I have 3 sub-lists for this one: Long Term Goals, Monthly Goals, and Weekly Goals. So I basically keep track of my career goals while breaking it down into a smaller, more detail-oriented goal listing. And I keep each list separate on three different worksheet tabs in Excel.
    • Why I Run it Like This:
      • Looking at your Long Term Goals daily can be overwhelming. For me, I’d never get anything done because I’d end up paralyzing myself staring at a goal such as Get published within the next X years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my goal and something I’m gonna make happen, but …
      • The Writing Life is all about taking things one step at a time. And most steps are small in the grander scheme of things, such as drafting and/or revising. Seeing larger goals in the To-Do List when I’m trying to focus on the here and now, the smaller goals, overwhelms me. So I prefer to separate these lists/goals so I can concentrate on eating my elephant one small bite at a time.
    • Comments:
      • Nada! This list is just for my eyes. So there’s really no one to hold me accountable. Though let’s be honest, if you don’t get it done you’re only letting yourself down, and that’s the worst possible person to disappoint, right?
    • My Favorite of these Lists:
      • The Weekly Goals List. Each item is a small step in the bigger picture and just seeing everything crossed off on a particular week makes me feel so, so good.
      • I even have a column entitled, “Why did you not get this done, nimrod?”
        • If I’m having a horrible week and just couldn’t seem to get anything done on my list, having this column is how I hold myself accountable. Maybe I need to adjust my schedule? Adjust the To-Do List itself, not put as many items on there? Or maybe I need to stop slacking off? Whatever the reason, it’s a good rule of thumb to learn from the mistake and move forward.

Tips for Making & Keeping To-Do Lists

  • Every item on your list should be SMART:
    • S = Specific: Make your goal clear and well-defined
    • M = Measurable: Can you track the success of this goal?
    • A = Attainable/Actionable: Is the goal a challenge? Something you can achieve?
    • R = Realistic: Is it within your reach? Something you can achieve?
    • T = Time: Does the goal have a deadline? Is the deadline workable/achievable?
  • Hang/Post your To-Do List somewhere you’ll see on a daily and/or hourly basis. The constant reminder of what you need to get done will be a great motivator.
  • Don’t kick yourself too hard if an item doesn’t get checked off (unless you’re contracted). I tend to be very hard on myself, but I’ve learned to get a little lax when it comes to missing an item on my list. That just means there’s more to do the next day. 🙂

Additional Resources on the Interwebz:


Your turn: Do you use To-Do Lists? Are you as neurotic diligent as I am? Or more lax? What tricks have you come across that have helped you knock the items off your list?

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Copyright 2018 by Melinda S. Collins