Making Lists in Library School

I love to make lists. My fellow Hack Library School writer Zack Frazier wrote a review of list apps and services last week and in that same spirit I thought I’d share my own list-making habits.

As an undergrad I didn’t have quite the same list-making zeal I do now (who wants to be reminded to do algebra homework, anyway?). When I think back to my previous academic experiences it’s obvious to me that I trudged through most of them. My school responsibilities and work weren’t terribly hard to manage, and they certainly didn’t require a huge shift in my productivity system or study habits. I just made it through, achieving mostly As and some Bs. That was enough for me. The difference between now and then is that there are a lot more factors now. I’m still not a perfectionist when it comes to my grades but I now have many beautiful little library-related facets to concern myself with and they are much more fun for me. I need some compartmentalization to keep track of it all!

Starting this past fall, I carried a cute ragged notebook with me everywhere in my (already-overburdened) purse. It accompanied me from the Lilly ref desk to the SLIS info commons and everywhere in between. I jotted down quotes I liked, URLs I found, and other random scribblings. However, I found myself writing more and more LISTS in this notebook. I needed to buy granola and also Francine’s cat food and don’t forget to pay the rent and call Whitney and reference homework was due 10/15 and so the rush of to-do’s continued. So many streams of thought, so many necessities to satisfy in so many different time frames. My notebook was bursting with relevant to-do’s that nevertheless made my head ache. I could write lists of tasks for the evening, but anything long term just died on the page, archived yet uncompleted in the most pathetic way.

It was either November or December that I sought out a free online task list service. I’d just read David Allen’s much-hyped productivity book Getting Things Done and I was newly motivated to streamline my list-making process. I checked out Remember the Milk among other options, but ultimately selected Ta-da Lists. I was familiar with the interface (one of my jobs uses the 37signals content management system) and I appreciated its simplicity.

I’ve found that my life is a lot happier now with the combination of:

  1. A messy multi-purpose notebook that I can write hastily scrawled lists in and feel the satisfaction of physically crossing items off.
  2. Ta-da Lists, where I can write short- and long-range lists in different categories and look at them from any computer with Internet access.
  3. Google Calendar, my old standby, now with color coding options in a rainbow of hues… it’s about time!

The strength of the online lists, as I said before, is my ability to keep very different types of information in one easy to access place. I thought I’d share some screenshots in this post showing you the different types of information I keep in my online lists.

THE BIG PICTURE – all of my lists, in the order I’ve last looked at them in case you’re wondering. Glamorous, yes?

As you can see I have a daily list, a monthly list, a list of BIG things that will be happening at the end of the semester that I need to make sure I stay on top of, and a super long-term list of what I’d like to accomplish before graduating in the spring of 2014 with my MLS and MIS. I have a list of scholarships that I want to apply for, things I need to buy, things to do around my apartment (domestic), money and finance-related tasks. I also have lists of certain skill sets I’d like to work on; digital humanities and user experience are featured here. On these lists I’ve added aspects that have shown up on job descriptions I’m intrigued by, so it’s a good way for me to continually challenge myself to learn new things. I also make note of conferences, which I’ll write a bit about next. It looks a bit sloppy but I find that it works for me. However, I do wish Ta-da Lists offered a feature to nest lists within other lists.

CONFERENCES – I am constantly on the lookout for upcoming conferences. I’m challenging myself to present at as many as possible while I am in library school, so I make it my prerogative to figure out when and where important state, regional and national conferences will be happening. Calls for proposals are generally due 6 months to a year before the conference occurs and I want to be READY! This is probably the feature that is most indispensable to me now. I can’t imagine effectively managing such faraway dates in a different way.

I’d encourage all library school students to become flexible long-range planners. You may be thinking to yourself, Flexible long-range planners? Is that an oxymoron? To which I’d have to say an enthusiastic no way! To me it simply means being intentional with your time and efforts while realizing that things are constantly changing. The changes won’t slow down your motivation, though, because you become so skilled at readjusting.

I’m constantly revising, tweaking, and otherwise checking up on these lists. When I complete a task, I’ll check the box. This could mean buying something or finishing a paper, or it could mean deciding definitively NOT to submit a proposal for a conference. Either way, once a decision is made the box is checked. It has certainly helped me stay sane with a crazy schedule.

Do you make lists? How do you keep your life organized in grad school?

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