We were taught to keep a running list of things To-Do by writing line after line of tasks and reminders. It’s a helpful way to capture tasks, but not the most effective way to track and complete projects.
Lists become endless as you add more and more to them in your effort to track what you need to attend to, even if you continually prioritize what you’ve noted.
The feelings evoked by a traditional To-Do list divides us into the List Lover and the List Avoider.
To-Do List Lover
* Benefits: Enjoys writing every task on a list, including completed ones, because it feels good to cross them off. (Come on, admit it, it does!)
* Faults: Rewriting fatigue interferes with actually completing the items on the list. The lists look great after each edit, which takes time, and that’s often the end of the story.
To-Do List Avoider
* Benefits: Resists tracking tasks because they feel like insistent demands, saving time in the short term. (Read That Won't Work For Me.)
* Faults: Avoiders stress a lot because they try to rely on their superhuman memory. (Can you say self-sabotage?)
Whether a Lover or an Avoider, here are five tips both can use to improve the faults and enhance the benefits of the traditional list.
1 Rename, reframe, revisit
Make your list more inviting by changing the name from To-Do list to something that invites you to use it, like Vision Plan, Strategy Map, Success Plot, Brain on Paper, Mastery Path, or whatever speaks to you. Both List Lovers and List Avoiders benefit when reminded of what needs attention and due dates, so feeling comfortable with a list type that you’ll actually use is essential.
2 Focus on the goal
The advantage to the traditional list is that important items are corralled in one place, releasing your memory to focus on more enjoyable things, like revisiting the fulfilling vacation you had last year or recalling the taste of a sweet summer peach. By jotting down notes, you’ll capture what you need and want to do. Otherwise, you’ll forget what you need to do and waste time and money on unmet deadlines. ($39 credit card late fees hurt.)
But even the List Lover must acknowledge the disadvantages.
In the line-by-line format, we tax our brainpower by continually scanning the list and juggling each item in mind while dividing them into priority value. Oy vey!
The list becomes part of the problem, which Avoiders are quick to point out.
Instead of a list, group tasks into project buckets. Focus on the goal, which is the point of your efforts.
· Home: Dressing Area Improvement
· Work: Professional Education
· Community: Cleanup Efforts
· Personal: Tax Dispute
Combine each goal with a positive emotion-focused statement, such as, “I’ll feel more confident when the dressing room project is complete because I’ll be able to dress quickly and more professionally for work when I can find shoes that match.”
If you enjoy wordplay, Dressing Area Improvement becomes Wow at Work and eases the embarrassment of arriving in shoes of different colors.
The goal of Professional Education can be nicknamed Traveling 50, shorthand for your intention to travel regularly by the age of 50 without financial hardship. By engaging in ongoing education, you can advance your career now and increase your salary, helping you meet your retirement goal.
Community Cleanup is a lot more enticing when you remember the moment the idea arrived. “My neighborhood will look better, and I’ll feel pride when I organize the community cleanup day.” Highlight it with a Proud of My Neighbors tag.
And finally, the prospect of debating your property value with your city assessment office would make anyone avoid a reminder. Reframe it as, “I’m happy I can buy a car because my taxes didn’t go up as planned.” Zap some zing on this task by labeling it Cruisin’ in Comfort!
3 Reduce the load
Is your first reaction, “Yeah, right. Like I can do that?!” These suggestions don’t mean you have to squelch your myriad of wishes, visions, and obligations. They encourage you to narrow your field of view to what you can reasonably accomplish. As you achieve some of your goals, add in the next batch.
List Lovers: Resist the urge to pile on! Focus only on what you’re currently working on. Store additional ideas separately to roll into focus when the time is right. Lots of things we put on lists fall off naturally when we change our minds, re-prioritize, or they become unneeded—all are acceptable reasons to re-evaluate!
List Avoiders: Reduce the number of projects on your list to what you can realistically wrap your mind around. This tactic might even make you a believer in the power of containing tasks! There’s a bonus, too. People who are tired of seeing and hearing you worry about all you must do will be impressed when you get your tasks out of your head and onto paper (or your computer or smartphone). If you’re still avoiding the idea, you might have an affection for task chaos, but that’s a subject for another day.
4 Design the format
We agree now that a straight list of tasks doesn’t work well for Lovers or Avoiders. But what’s next? Personalize your method to what works for you. The more creative you make it, the better because you’re already attracted to it by virtue of thinking of it in the first place.
List Lovers Challenge
Here’s your chance to have fun with the format—and work the ‘list’ to your advantage. Instead of writing, editing, and rewriting a bazillion lines of unconnected tasks, try side-by-side columns, titled with the goal. (Click here or on image larger sample)
List Avoiders Challenge
This is your opportunity to create an anti-To Do list that works for you, but first, you have to admit that your memory isn’t as reliable as you think. Remember that fast food bag you forgot to take out of the back seat of your car? If nothing else, let the memory of that aroma spark your creative self. You can track what you need to do and still boast you don’t use a To-Do list.
* Use sticky notes on the wall or shuffle index cards on the table to lay out the next steps for your goals. Remember to title the target, or you’re back to trying to remember everything you’re working on.
* Notebooks or indexed binders can be helpful for complicated projects by separating different aspects of work areas.
* Pictures can help avoiders stay on track, but be sure to add reminders of key points to remember.
5 Get to work
You’ve chosen an inviting name for your task containment system and know how to inspire yourself by focusing on feeling engaged with what you want to do, the goal, and the endpoint.
Now it’s time to move on and get things done the way you work best.
One option is to pick a project and work it through to the end. While that works for some, it’s not possible for most people since we often have to wait on other’s schedules and replies. Choose a few tasks and work them through as far as possible, keeping notes on your progress so you can easily see where you left off and what’s next. Lather, rinse, repeat until you can check them off your list.
Design a theme, or focus, for the day or the whole week.
* Some days choosing 15-minute tasks is the most productive way to go because that’s all the attention span or time you have available.
* Devote an entire week to working only on one or two projects and give them your full focus.
* Align your activity choice with your natural energy state by saving simple actions for low energy level times and lengthy tasks when you have time and patience. Remember, not all tasks are created equal.
Plot time on your calendar to work on your tasks. Remember to leave zeros, those blocks of uncommitted time that accommodate the inevitable delays, interruptions, and unforeseen events.
Rotate new projects into the focus lineup as completed projects fade away. You’ll soon be able to bask in the results of all that work and feel confident in your choices. Are you ready to complete a Wow at Work project, graduate your Travel at 50 goal classes, enjoy community pride from your Proud of My Neighbors efforts, or drive your fun car (a.k.a. Cruisin’ in Comfort) because you took the time to challenge your tax increase?
You can, and all without using a To-Do List!
Please share what works for you to compile, track, and complete the small steps needed to master your day as you master your life. Comments?