A Simple Personal Planning System: 3 Lists and 3 Categories

In this day and age, keeping track of all of the activities going on in our lives is more than our brains were designed to handle. This has led to the rise of a myriad of different planning systems, with varying complexity and cost. 

Having tried many of them over the years, I synthesized a simple system of 3 lists with 3 categories that works well for everyday use and is free to implement. I recently wrote it up for my daughters (particularly the high school senior who is off to college next year), and wanted to share it in case others found it of value. Here’s how it works.

The system has three lists:

  1. Projects (or Outcomes or Big Goals): This is the list of all the major items on your plate, such as getting a new job, taking a big vacation, or a large project at work. These are typically multiple months (or more) in scope.
  2. Deliverables (or Checkpoints or Milestones): This is the list of major components that need to happen to achieve the outcome you are seeking. These are typically a few weeks in size.
  3. Tasks (or To Dos or Activities): This is the list of specific items that need to be completed. These are typically hours or days.

And then each list is further broken down into 3 different categories:

  1. Now (or Doing or Today): These are things that are going on now.
  2. Soon (or To Do): These are items you do not need to work on at the moment, but are coming up, so you should keep an eye on them.
  3. Someday (or Future or Bonus): These are items that would be nice, but realistically not in the near term. You don’t want to lose them, but they don’t need your focus right now.

And that’s it.

The reason I like it is that it quickly let’s you scale from the big ticket items on the left, to your daily tasks on the right. If you want to make sure you’ve got everything, just read left to right: do each of your projects have at least one deliverable and one task defined? If you have too many things on you plate, start dropping some down from “Now” to “Soon” or from “Soon” to “Someday”. If you are still overwhelmed, keep dropping items down.

One common question I get is how much detail do you need. My recommendation is that you need just enough detail to keep moving forward. In other words, if you are making progress that you are happy with, then you have enough detail. If you aren’t making the progress you want, spend some time to add more detail, either to your outcome statement or to the tasks that need to be accomplished.

There are multiple platforms that you can use to create this. I happen to use Trello, which gives you the ability to drag and drop items. This makes it easy to keep it up to date. (I have no affiliation with Trello, I just like it and you can use their free account). If you put them on a grid, and use an example of finding a new job, it looks like this:

If you are in the market for a planning system, give it a try. Once you get the basic idea, you can customize it to make it even more relevant and useful for you.

%d bloggers like this: