Creating an Activity Schedule : Following Through After the Activity or Event, Creating and Using To Do Lists

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Following Through After the Activity or Event

The last component of any activity—the wrapping up, cleaning up, putting things away, enjoying the accomplishment part—is the one most overlooked and neglected by people who tend to be disorganized. These people's creative tendencies find the last step boring or superfluous. They want to get on to exciting new projects.

But this last step is critical to a smooth-running schedule and a less frazzled life. Suitcases need to be unpacked; paint brushes must be cleaned; library books (and especially rented videos) must be returned. And nothing will destroy the benefit of a restful vacation quicker than having to head back to work the next day and face a full schedule of meetings and report deadlines along with the post-vacation pile-up of mail, phone messages, and email.

If you're pressed for time, you certainly won't see as much urgency in cleaning up as you will in moving on. But if you take the time to wrap things up, you'll find you can live in the present with a good outlook to the future instead of feeling as though nothing is ever quite accomplished. Don't lose sight of your reason for wanting to organize your family's schedule: to reduce your stress and increase your enjoyment of life. If you won't go the final step without a reminder, then schedule the wrap-up as a separate item on your to do list.

In general, asking yourself the following questions will go a long way toward making sure that you schedule all the follow-up steps to wrap up an activity so that you feel satisfied and don't have a nagging feeling of incompleteness:

  • Is there anything to clean up?

  • If yes, when will you clean it, and how long will this task take?

  • Is there anything to put away?

  • If yes, when will you put it away, and how long will this task take?

  • Are there any follow-up activities, such as having photos developed or writing thank-you notes?

  • If yes, when will you do them, and how long will they take?


    The highly acclaimed Montessori instruction method teaches how to do things by breaking down tasks into their smallest components.

  • Do any other people need to be involved in the wrap-up of this activity?

  • If yes, when will they be available?

  • Is there anything else you can do to make this activity more complete?


As we've explained, every task you do has three parts to it: setting it up, doing it, and wrapping it up. For some people this entire three-step process is seen as one seamless event. These are the people who never leave the board sitting out after the game is over because, to them, putting the pieces away is all part of playing the game. These people are never left with paint-encrusted brushes or unpacked suitcases either. If some of the people in your family have brains that work this way, you should be aware that you can allow them to maintain their schedules in a less-detailed way.

For other people, playing the game ends when someone has won. Putting the board away is an unrelated event. For these people, other events unto themselves include cleaning the paint brushes after the garage is painted and unpacking suitcases after a vacation. If some of the people in your family have brains that work this way, you should be aware that they will need to maintain schedules in much more detail.

There's no universal right or wrong amount of detail in a person's schedule. It's all about what works for each individual. As long as your family members are aware of individual differences as they organize the family's schedule, they will be able to do their part to keep family life running smoothly.

Creating and Using To Do Lists

You probably make lists of things to do all the time. But do they serve their purpose, or are you often left at the end of the day with a list of things you didn't do? To create an effective to do list, you need to have an understanding of everything you want to accomplish within a certain time frame. Then, for each item on that list, you need to make a separate list of all of the component tasks involved in completing that item. You can make that list by following these steps:

State the main activity.

List everything that needs to be done to prepare for the task.

List everything that needs to be done to complete the task. Use the questions listed in the last section to help you.

Your list doesn't have to be a numbered series of items going down a page. As an alternative to writing a list, you can draw an activity map, such as the one shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. You can substitute an activity map for a list. Here, all of the preparatory items are on spokes above the main event, and all of the follow-up items are below it.

Just breaking down the activity into its components isn't enough, though. Each component has to be completed in its correct order, so the next step in using your list is to put the steps in sequence. If you've made a list, you can assign each line a number or numbers indicating your planned chronology, as shown in Figure 2. If you prefer more visual tools, such as the activity map, then you may also prefer sequencing the steps by using a timeline, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2. After you've listed everything you need to do, number the items in the order you'll do them. If you plan to do two items at the same time, they both get the same number. If an item requires two steps, then it gets two numbers.

Figure 3. Placing all of the items from your activity map onto a timeline allows you to see the sequence in which you need to do them.

After you've put the steps in order, you still have one more phase to go in the planning process. That's to schedule the steps into your planner. Only after each step has been assigned a time slot during which it will be performed have you succeeded in establishing a plan that, if carried out, will get the job done in an orderly and unharried way.


In our example of the friend's birthday party, you may have noticed that some items were grouped together during the sequencing phase of the planning. They were grouped together strategically to make more efficient use of time. We mentioned earlier how an interruption takes time not just for the interruption itself but also for the time required to shift attention to the interruption and then the time needed to shift attention back to the original task. Everything you do has a wind-up time and a wind-down time.

Sometimes these chunks of time are barely noticeable—for example, every time you sit down to do desk work and then shift away to do something else. In our example, you can see that we grouped replying to the invitation and getting the driving directions together, even though the directions wouldn't be needed for quite some time. However, because they were both desk activities, there is a small savings of time involved in approaching the activities this way.

Sometimes these chunks of time are obvious—for example, in the case of errands, where you have to spend the time to drive to the shopping center and to drive back from the shopping center. One trip, obviously, takes less time than two trips. That's why in the example we've lumped the shopping together as much as possible.

Why, you may ask, if this consumption of extra time is so obvious, don't we avoid it naturally? The answer is that sometimes we do. But sometimes lack of organization gets in our way. In other words, the more disorganized we are, the less efficient we are. The less efficient we are, the more disorganized we become. So, we get caught in a spiral of disorganization. One reason you may not group your errands together is that you don't remember that some of the errands need to be done. This reason is the result of a failure to plan properly. Another reason is that you may have scheduled your activities too tightly, so although you may have time to get to the dry cleaners to pick up your dress, you don't have enough time to also stop at the drugstore for toothpaste. This means that because you don't have 10 minutes to buy toothpaste now, buying toothpaste tomorrow will take you 30 minutes. To get a greater appreciation of how defragmenting your tasks can save you both time and money, compare the two scenarios in Table 1.

Table 1. Buying Milk and Cereal
Scenario 1: Two TripsScenario 2: One Trip
 Time$ Time$
Drive to store (avg. 3 miles)101.00Drive to store (avg. 3 miles)101.00
Walk through ice cream aisle to milk (Stop and get ice cream)2 12.50Walk through ice cream aisle to milk (Stop and get ice cream)2 12.50
Pick up milk12.00Pick up milk12.00
Walk through cookie aisle to checkout (don't get cookies because you got ice cream)1 Walk through cereal aisle to checkout1 
Wait in checkout line3 Pick up cereal13.00
Check out4 Wait in checkout line3 
Drive home101.00Check out4 
Drive to store101.00Drive home101.00
Walk directly to cereal aisle2 Total339.50
Pick up cereal13.00   
Walk through cookie aisle to checkout (Stop and get cookies)1 12.50   
Wait in checkout line3    
Check out4    
Drive home101.00   

Organizing your schedule pays. This example shows how you can save 31 minutes of your time and $4.50 of your money by planning ahead and scheduling your time wisely so that you make one trip to buy milk and cereal instead of two trips. If you eliminated one trip to the store every week, you'd gain more than 26 hours and save about $230 a year.

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