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How To Break Down Your Master List (To Make It More Manageable)

This week, we’re taking your productivity to the next level by looking at how to break down your master list or brain dump into something much more manageable. (If you missed last week’s post, where we actually did a full “mind sweep” and got everything written down into a trusted system, you can catch up here: How To Stop Forgetting Things.)

Assuming you were diligent with last week’s exercise, and kept it up in the interim, you should now have a pretty long list of random thoughts and tasks. It’s time to move them on, or move them out.

Break Down Your Master List

If you’re familiar with my “Get Started” series, what we’re about to do next will come as no surprise — purge! Go through each item, line by line, and determine what’s no longer relevant or important. Trust me, there’ll be lots. The whole idea of getting them out of your head is to more easily determine which is fools gold and which is the real deal, so it’s time to separate the nuggets from the nothings.

How to break down your master list -- panning for gold nuggets

Some tasks will no longer be relevant due to the fact that they’ve either been completed, or no longer need attention. Some were random thoughts or notes that don’t need further action. If you don’t want them, get rid of them.

This step alone should take a solid chunk out of your list. So now that you’ve removed a few rocks from your pan, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and sift through some sand.

Break down your master list -- Panning for gold

What’s left should be a mixed bag of tasks, thoughts, events, reminders, lists, etc. Whip out your calendar, your ‘to do’ list, and your journal. Now, as you’re going through all the items, transfer the appointments and that sort of stuff to your calendar, your tasks to your ‘to do’ list, and random deep and meaningful thoughts or memories to your journal. When you’ve transferred an item, cross it off the main list.

There should still be a few stray notes leftover that don’t really fit neatly into any of those. Have a close look at them and decide again if you really need to keep them. If not, get rid. If you do, get yourself a notebook or a note-taking app that allows you have several “pages” and transfer them there, trying to categorise them as best you can. Some might be notes on a book you want to write. Great — stick them in a “book notes” section. Some might be items you want to splash out on when you’ve enough money. Super — stick them on a “splurge” list. Each list gets it own page.

Break down your master list -- 'books to read'

It’s totally fine to have a “random thoughts” section for those things that pop into your head that you want to remember for whatever reason, but they don’t really deserve a spot in your journal. Generally these are just small bits of information that you need to keep for a short amount of time — like a reference number when booking a service, or the price of something at the store so you can compare it next time you’re online.

If it’s just one or two items that don’t deserve a list all of their own, they go in your “random” list.



At the end of all that, you should have everything categorised into nice, neat lists. Appointments will be in your calendar or planner; tasks, errands and chores will be on your ‘to do’ list; memorable moments and important thoughts will be in your journal; and everything else will be on its own relevant list in a single notebook or app.

If you use a Bullet Journal or a Traveler’s Notebook, all of these things will probably be in the same place. Go you! (If you don’t know what a Bullet Journal is, hit up my post: How To Remember Everything — Use A Bullet Journal. A Traveler’s Notebook is, essentially, a bunch of small notebooks grouped together inside one binding, like mine pictured below.)

Break down your master list -- RayDori Bullet Journal. Midori. Fauxdori. Notebook.

You should know where everything is, and it should all be pretty easily accessible to you. For now, you’re not worried about prioritising anything (that’s next week), you just want to make sure that everything is where it should be so you can find it when you need it.

If you keep all those things close at hand all day, you can now just write the relevant information into its appropriate place straight away. If you don’t, or you’re unsure at the time where something might go, keep up your mind sweeps for quick capturing of things, and then set aside regular time to transfer all that stuff to its appropriate place.

Break down your master list -- mind sweep

Rest assured that the first time you break down your master list will take the most time, because you’re processing ALL your information. After that, it’ll become a breeze because you’re only dealing with NEW information that pops up.

So congratulations, you’re really kicking ass at this ‘life’ stuff. Three cheers to organising everything on your master list, and three cheers to you.

Pop back next week when we’ll be talking about how you can prioritise those lists and put a plan in place for actually getting all that shit done. It’ll be the icing on your cake, the syrup on your pancakes, and the screaming gorilla on your Empire State Building. In other words, it’s time to turn something plain into something pretty fucking exciting.

Stay tuned!

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