ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life”. This book sits, dog-eared and well-loved, on my bedside table, all the time. When I feel like life is spiraling out of control, I come back to it. It always makes me feel excited to get control back and get back to using the many strategies inside to start reining in the chaos. The advice seems weirdly personal, like the whole book was written just for me.

Lately, my attention is pulled in a million directions. I’m desperately trying to clean up, reorganize, and renovate my condo – and the clock is ticking because my new bedroom floors are being installed next week, so cluttered bedrooms are not an option. I’m also trying to eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. And start my own business, and write blog entries, and complete some major projects for work. And keep my toddler happy and stop her from doing any major damage to herself or our belongings while I try to accomplish other goals. It’s been tough to stay focused on any one thing while feeling the pressure of everything else on my list. My to-do lists are notoriously long and unwieldy, mostly just causing panic when I look at them.

About a week ago, I was feeling bummed that I seemed to keep getting caught procrastinating everything because I just couldn’t deal with the magnitude of everything I had to do. So I turned to my organization bible, and re-read the section on Stubby Lists. Here’s the gist, straight from the book:

“If you find that to-do lists haven’t worked well for you in the past, try developing the daily habit of making a ‘stubby to-do list.’ A stubby to-do list is bold and big and hard to ignore. It is also very short, with no more than five items on it. Too often, people make long, unwieldy to-do lists in their planner, or worse yet, on a slip of paper they stuff in their pocket or purse. On a long list, items become lost in the shuffle and lose their sense of priority.”

As usual, she is speaking directly to my soul. So I started an evening ritual of scribbling out, in huge print, 5 items or less that I would accomplish the next day.

I learned a few things right off the bat. First, I am terrible at realistically gauging how much I can accomplish in a single day. This probably should have been obvious but was actually a bit of a shock. On several occasions, I only really accomplished one thing on my list. Or I finished half my list, got cocky, did a bunch of other unimportant things, and then had to stay up until midnight to finish an essential item on my list that I thought I would have tons of time for. On one occasion I actually went and got a manicure instead of writing a blog entry, and ended up sacrificing a great deal of sleep in order to write. Oops.

Secondly I learned that I am a cheater. I would leave essential items off of my list in order to not go over 5 items, knowing full well I would still have to do those items. So really, I was still cramming more than I could possibly do onto my list, but half of the list was just in my head. Unsurprisingly, this made me unable to complete my list.

After a few days I worked the kinks out. Here are my tips for stubby list success:

  1. If it MUST get done, write it down

This is where I kept cheating. I’d think things like “I do laundry most days, it’s no big deal, I don’t need to write it down.” While that is true sometimes – oftentimes I can simply squeeze in a load if I have some time, and it’s no big deal if I don’t – it is also true some days that I MUST do laundry. If no one has clean underwear, or the diapers are starting to funk up the joint, laundry has to be one of the 3-5 items on the stubby list.

  1. More often than not, the list should be less than 5 items

Again, this was tough for me to accept. At first it seemed like an impossible task to narrow down my massive list of things to accomplish to just five. But it quickly became apparent that even when I painstakingly narrowed it down to five, I could usually only finish 3. Sometimes I could do five, if the items were quick and simple things. But usually my items were more open-ended, challenging projects that I had been procrastinating, and they really took a lot of time to properly deal with.

  1. You can plan your week ahead of time…to a point

This helped me get past my struggle with narrowing a day’s list down to 3-5 items. You can always start on the next 2 or 3 days’ worth of lists all at once. Try to keep it to adding only 1 or 2 items to each, though. You need to stay flexible for new items that will come up, or items you don’t complete that need to be bumped to the next day’s list.

  1. Don’t stop for the weekend

I did great with my stubby lists throughout the week, and then totally abandoned the format for the weekend. I lost the habit, forgot to get back to it Sunday evening for Monday, and didn’t get nearly as much done over the weekend as I’d planned to. Next weekend: stubby lists. Every day.

Now that I’ve ironed out the kinks I’m really enjoying how well these lists work. Keeping it short and realistic is making me feel way less overwhelmed and more focused.

Any tips you would add? How do you manage your to-do list on a daily basis? Please share below; I always need new ideas!