Contextual Lists: Are You Making Them?

“Hello, my name is Carley and I’m addicted to lists.”

“Hi Carley!”

I strive, at all times, to get things out of my head and into a trusted system, so that I can free up my psyche to focus on more important things than, “Buy milk.”

The more enthusiastic you are about list-making, of course, the longer the list gets, and sometimes staring at a looong one is a surefire way to get nothing done.  This is why I make smaller, contextual lists.  Each one describes a bunch of things I can do in a particular place, or when I have particular resources at my disposal.  Because when I’m at grocery store, I can speed-shop if I’ve got a list that ONLY contains grocery items.  I can’t type emails or make phone calls there (without crashing my cart, anyway), so I don’t want to see those list items until I’m at my computer or phone.

Having contextual lists helps you hit the ground running when life hands you a few minutes of unexpected free time.  All the “what’s the best use of my time right now?” thinking has been done ahead of time, so you can grab the right list and spring into action.

When creating your contextual lists, ask yourself, “What would be the most effective use of my time, given where I am and what tools I have access to?” or, conversely, “What are the things I can’t work on now given where I am and the tools to which I have access?”  Create lists like “Calls,” “Errands,” “Follow Up” and “Costco” to keep track of tasks, or create agendas like “Pediatrician” or “Boss” so that the next time you see them, all your questions and agenda items are in one place.

If you already use to-do lists in your work or personal life, think of ways you can break them up into context, so that you can quickly determine what to-do when you have the fleeting free moments to do them.  If you don’t use to-do lists, do give them a try!




  1. MaryRose

    Once I discovered this concept a few years back, it totally changed the productivity of my day.
    I break activities down into these groups: Computer (things that need to be done on my computer, like pay bills online, print out documents, online research, etc); Out & About (things I need when I’m out in my car, like post office, random things I need to buy, etc); E-mail (people I need to get back to or things I need to check); and Home (things that must be done at home, like go through stuff to file, make phone calls, gather materials).
    I just go through my list for the particular place and I’m able to get a lot more done at one time.

    • Carley

      Isn’t it amazing how well it works? Just takes a little bit of forethought… bravo to you!

  2. Tracy Young

    Some great ideas for being productive during our busy lives. I swear by to-do lists as they help me feel in control but it’s also helpful not to rewrite the lists every day. There’s no sense wasting the time when I could be doing something else…

    • Carley

      Yes, I totally agree. That’s why, even though I love the immediacy of pen and paper, I do all my stuff digital. That way my contextual lists are always clean.

  3. Jennifer Tankersley

    Contextual lists. . .I like the sound of that. So true. I like to do a “mind sweep” but then break that down into manageable steps or supplies.

    • Carley

      High praise from you, oh list goddess! 😀


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