05/16/2014 05:37 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2014

Make a 'Panic' List!

Diane Macdonald via Getty Images

I find myself in a situation that is probably not unfamiliar to many of you. I am a professional and a mom. This typically means that there are lots of things for me to do and plan, and also lots of things for me to worry about. My engineering brain prefers my life to be in neatly organized little boxes. The reality of my life is miles removed from that most of the time. To add to this, I am also a "planner." Planning things and writing lists have a very real effect on my mind. It calms me down.

I am not sure whether the little technique I am about to share is a planning tool, a mental health tool or a revelation into how my mind works, but I will leave that for the experts to decide. It is, however, something that helps me categorize things I need to pay attention to. It may help you, or at least make you smile in recognition.

It involves a very simple and comforting thing for me -- a list.For the purposes of this discussion, I have called it a "panic" list. The intention of the list is the opposite -- to avoid panic. It just does not have the same ring to it to call it an "avoid panic" list. I make this list on individual "sticky" notes. Each "sticky" note contains one item. Panic list items can be as follows:

• Sort out summer childcare.
• Call medical insurance (for the thousandth time!) to ask for documentation copies.
• Call IRS (also for the thousandth time!)
• Make summer medical appointments.
• Read proposal file.
• Walk around the lake more often to stay active.
• Review client documentation.
• And the list goes on.....

At this point you will have a wad of sticky notes. I like sticky notes because they can be stuck together in a pile or individually to a calendar date, or for most urgent and pressing matters, to the edge of my computer screen. My "panic" list usually lives close at hand. It is in my daily planner, or in a visible corner of my desk. Every day (or couple of days, as I have time) I pick an item on my "panic list" to address. This note then gets a prime position and I spend what time I have to work on this item and close it out. I do not have a terribly sophisticated system for picking the item I address. Sometimes it is the urgency, or sometimes it is the time I have available that matches up with the time needed to address the items.

I like this method for lots of reasons. Here are a few (in list form, of course!)

• As soon as I have an item written down on a list, I feel as if I have taken action.
• This list is organic. It can grow and shrink and items can leave and be added easily.
• I am not bound to a particular order because each item is on its own note.
• It works for me that it is individual sticky notes and not something electronic.
• That means I can take them out of the list and display them somewhere prominent.
• This method helps me to "park" items mentally and physically and avoid overload.

If you try this method, please leave a comment and let me know if it works for you. I would also love to hear about ways you find helpful in keeping on top of the many things you have to manage in your life.