I keep a running to-do list on my desk at all times, in a cheapo Steno notebook that has a vertical red line down the center of each page that splits it into two columns. I use the left-hand column for work-related items, and the right-hand column for errands.
In general, my list of tasks is pretty big-picture — prepare a couple of posts for this blog, for example, or research an article I’m writing. It gives me a good overview of what I’m working on at any given moment, and helps me make a mental calculation about what I need to be doing with my workday. It also doesn’t typically look unmanageable, which is something that helps me stay both happy and productive. If my to-do lists get too long, I get anxious whenever I look at them, and lose time and emotional energy worrying whether I’ll be able to get everything done.
When I get really busy, however, I find it impossible to keep things from slipping through the cracks if I don’t get more granular: find the photograph I need to illustrate my post on the ABP/1, say, or email Mr. So-and-so to schedule an interview. Usually, at that point, I start a whole new list that’s separate from my big-picture overview, and balance that piece of paper on top of the other notebook, or fasten it with a paper clip. I still struggle with the issue of being overwhelmed, but that’s a lot better than overlooking some task because I’m too harried, and adding even more stress to my life.
How detailed are your lists?