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