Manage Your Time Effectively Using the “Four List” Method

Some people hate them, other people love them. Software companies have even created apps to make keeping them easier.

I’m talking about To Do lists, of course. When used properly, they can really help you to manage your time.

Freelancers are busy people. There’s no doubt about it. Discussions of time management are always among the most popular topics here at Freelance Folder. That’s why today I’m going to share a very simple time management To Do list technique that I use myself.

Getting Started

While you may wish to use one of the online To Do list tools, all you really need to get started is a notebook and a pen.

I like to place each of the four lists on a separate page in a separate section in the notebook. That way, old lists can be discarded without affecting the rest of your To Do items.

Your Immediate Tasks

Your first To Do list should consist of your immediate tasks. These are typically tasks that are due within a day’s time.

I include both work-related tasks and personal tasks on that list. That way, I only have one place to look to see what I need to do each day.

Try to keep this list to a reasonable length (less than seven items). If your list is too long, you not only won’t get everything done–but you’ll get pretty frustrated. I recently had a daily To Do list with 17 items, boy was that frustrating! To trim your list, move any items that don’t really have to be done today to the second list.

You need to redo this list for the next day at the end of each day. Look at your second list to see if any of the tasks on it are due tomorrow. Also, add any new immediate tasks that came in during the day.

Your Second List

Tasks that are due within a week’s time make up your second list. It’s a good idea to write the due date beside each task on this list. Not only will this help you to update your first list, but it also helps to keep you from procrastinating and leaving all the tasks until the last day of the week.

You need to update this list daily and redo it completely at the start of every week. At the end of each day, add any new tasks that came up during the day. Remove any tasks that you’ve transferred to your first list. At the end of each week, review the list and make sure that all of the tasks are still due during the coming week. Add any tasks from your third list that will come due during the coming week.

Intermediate Planning

Your third list is used for your intermediate planning. This is for events and tasks coming up in the next few months. Be sure to right an approximate date by each item.

You need to review this list weekly to see if any items need to be moved to your weekly list (your second list). Also, add new items as you become aware of them.

Your Wish List and Your Goals

No time management method would be complete without a way for you to list your goals and dreams. That is what your fourth list is for.

Most likely, you won’t have specific due dates for the items on this list. However, you should still review this list at least once a month. Take time to brainstorm and figure out what it will take to turn your dreams and goals into reality. Add those brainstormed tasks to the lists above.

To Do List Tools

Admittedly, this is a VERY simplistic method of managing time and making sure that your deadlines get met. However, it will work for some freelancers. Sometimes, simpler is better.

For those who need more sophisticated tools, such as the ability to generate reports or interface with an invoicing system, consider one of the online To Do list tools.

Here are five top-rated To Do list tools that you may find helpful:

  • HiTask–This To Do list tool allows you to work with a team. It includes file sharing, reporting, and mobile access. Great for teams.
  • ToodleDo–Another helpful online To Do list tool. This tool includes a hotlist, lets you hide tasks. It also includes a scheduler and alarms.
  • Remember the Milk–This is a very popular method of managing tasks. Remember the Milk interfaces with Google Calendar and can be accessed from anywhere including your phone.
  • Evernote–This popular tool works more like a bookmarking/note-taking service. It can be accessed from anywhere.
  • Do It Tomorrow–I was immediately attracted to the visual interface, which looks like a paper planner. This allows you to keep two short-range lists, one for today and one for tomorrow.

Most of these tools have a free version, so try several and find the one that works best for you. You can find even more apps here.

What Do You Think?

Choosing a To Do list application (or any kind of time management tool) is a very personal thing. A lot of it depends on how you work and how you prefer to organize yourself. It also depends on the needs of your clients.

I’ve shared a system that works for me. What works for you?

Image by Enderst07


  1. says

    Yeah, taking inventory and writing out a list is a great way to reset some of your priorities and getting some focus. Otherwise it’s amazing how some distractions can take over your day. One almost needs to be ruthless in keeping to it, not saying you can’t be open to new ideas but maybe make some room for it, to still be able to get done whatever you were intending.

    Another option to try is with Odysen, It has Actions for your bigger projects (assign priority, owner, status, due date, filter and sorting options). Also includes other applications to compliment your actions and there’s a free version available to work with a small group.

  2. says

    I use my Mac calender and since it is every where with me I like it. But some of the above links are so nice. Sometimes it is good to give a change and even an application works try new ones. Thanks for sharing

  3. says

    “Try to keep this list to a reasonable length (less than seven items)”<—-yeah…definitely a good idea lol. I'm all excited, about putting in as much as possible on the list the night before, and it ends up with me ignoring it the next day. mostly.

    In addition to the apps mentioned: try out business calendar (available on android). It's a pretty advanced to-do-list-system; but it's easy to use and…yeah, it works. A simpler one is Astrid; for android mobils.

  4. Mark Campbell says

    Trello has taken list to the next level. I love there service and the list becomes for practical and dynamic, I’m wondering how that service didn’t break into the top 5

  5. says

    As you already mentioned it, the key is not overdoing by creating several tasks.

    Personally I use Wunderlist with Finishedsts (for work) : Pending, Doing and Finished.

    So, whenever I get something to do I separate it in several tasks in the Pending list. When I’m going to start doing a task, I move it to Doing, and when that task is done move it to Finished so at the end of the day I can see what’s done and what isn’t (and clear the finished tasks).

    If I need to do something tomorrow or another day, it goes to the calendar so that day will make the tasks I need to do.

    It sounds like a mess but it really works.

    I’m a senior developer at one of the biggest banks in Guatemala… So there is always something to do ;)

    I really enjoyed this article (please keep them coming) and sorry about my English.

  6. says

    Hi Laura,

    Interesting post and I believe that managing time is the most difficult task of all, be it for freelancers, students or full-time workers. The four-list method is humorous, but I can speak from experience that making to-do lists is the most effective way to get stuff done and keep track of how much you’ve done.

    Thanks for those free tools, I’m having a look at them now. :)

  7. says

    Another great piece by Laura!

    We use two types of To Do lists to get our tasks done. One is cloud-based, Wunderlist. This one everyone has access to and it’s kind of almost like a ‘Work In Progress’ list for all to see who’s in charge of what. The other is of course, the simple pen and paper daily ‘to do’ list that we use to manage our own time for the day.

  8. says

    The most important thing is prioritizing your work and managing your time accordingly. This is great writing Laura, i really appreciate your writing style. The tools you shared at the bottom of your article are also of great help. Thanks for sharing!!

  9. says

    Good post. Managing your time is somewhat difficult to do but when you think of the things that is necessary and is important to do, you can then manage your time. Step-by-step you will learn how to manage your time from the most important things down to the lease important.

  10. says

    These are simple but very helpful ideas. Thanks for sharing them :) Whatever you do in life and you are having a hard time managing your time well, you can take advantage of the wonderful tools technology has to offer just like some digital calendars available nowadays. Nonetheless, keeping up to the schedule you have set is still the best.

  11. says

    Thanks for the article.
    One of the challenges I observed was that lot of things I need to get done or need remembering tend to be buried in my emails or pop in my head at random points but transferring them from email or my head into a calendar task or to-do-list is just too tedious today.

    It occurred to me that is why busy (and rich) people hire personal assistants that they can just “tell” what they need to get done.

    That led me to ask the question – why can’t everyone get a free personal assistant that they can email (or forward/CC existing emails) or text to and it will get on my calendar or task list?

    As a result, we have created a service: to do exactly that. It gives you a free personal assistant that you can send or forward emails, include on emails, send text messages and it manages your life for you.
    Please check it out and give us feedback.

  12. says

    What?s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered
    It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads.
    I hope to contribute & assist other customers like it can be aided
    me. Excellent job.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>