He who gains time gains everything.
– Benjamin Disraeli
Making a “to do” list is a very effective way to gain more time, clarity and success in life. People who work from a list are better at managing their time and their lives. Making a list is similar to having a plan, which is always more effective than doing things randomly. Random action tends to be reactive, much like a fire brigade, rushing to put out a fire after hearing the fire alarm. Often times we know what we need to do but our emotions are so overwhelming they prevent us from doing it. This is why we procrastinate. We procrastinate because doing something seems more scary than not doing anything at all. However, procrastination has its own price. We feel guilty and have even more emotional blocks. If for some reason it was hard to do something before, after procrastinating for a while, it is even harder.
The easiest way to stop procrastinating is to do something (even something small) and to move forward. Every small move we make is proof that we are able to keep progressing. It increases our sense of control over life and motivates us to keep going. If we set goals and plan to take action, prioritize our tasks and execute them, we can gain a sense of control, confidence and motivation.
Successful people have goals in every area of life. When they go to a meeting, they have a goal, when they get up in the morning, they have a goal, when they meet friends, they have a goal. They always know what they want to achieve. Why? Because in life, you get what you focus on. And how do lists fit in? Making a list of actions is the act of breaking down their goal into smaller, more manageable pieces.
If you want to bring more control into your life, have a goal, have a plan, make a list of actions to take and bring the list to life. Here is an introduction on how to make an effective action list and make good use of it.
It’s not the hours you put in, it’s what you put into the hours.
Tips to having an effective action list
- Make sure an action list is not in your head but on paper/computer/ IPhone/IPod. Why do you need to write it down? I once heard a saying, “The opposite of forgetting is writing down”. Writing down what you have to do will guarantee you will not forget. It frees your mind to tackle other things.
- In order to achieve something, you have to have a goal, an idea of what it is want to achieve. If the goal is quite big and requires a lot of small tasks in order to achieve it, write them all down. The smaller they are, the better you feel when you get to tick them off.
- Have a writing pad (digital or paper) in your car, next to your bed, on your work desk or anywhere you spend a lot of time (my husband takes one when he exercises). Write down everything you need to do. We have all been in the situation where we thought, “I have to remember to do this in the morning”. Of course, we forgot. Do not test the boundaries of your memory.
- Combine all your to do lists into one. Having too many lists can be a bit overwhelming. Remember, action lists are supposed to give you a sense of control and ease the chaos.
- If a task has a due date or a deadline, make sure to include it in your action list. It will help you decide which tasks to do first.
- Prioritize your to do list. Prioritizing helps limit procrastination. Instead of doing what is easy, you shift to doing what is most important. Create your own system for prioritizing, by assigning a level of importance to each task. You can use a scale of 3 (e.g. high, medium, low), 1-5, 1-10 or even more. When you start doing your task, start with the most important items.
- For every item, estimate the time it will take you to complete the task. It is not a test or a race. This is meant to help you improve your estimate for the next time. If you have a time tracker, use this to learn about your efficiency. If you often find yourself wondering where all your time disappeared to, using a time tracker is a wonderful way to figure out what you have been using your time for.
- Once you complete an action, tick it off or cross it off to give yourself a sense of achievement. Make sure to check if your estimate was correct. Over time, you will get better and better at it.
- At the end of the day/week, transfer unfinished actions to the following list and work from there. If you use any digital format, it is easier to transfer from one list to the other.
- Place the list in a visible and central place This will help you keep track of all the things you want to do.
- Create a bit of a ceremony when you complete all the tasks in a list. Some people copy the things still left to do into a new list and then tear up the old one, others keep it in a folder. Remember, the ceremony is meant to give you a sense of achievement and success.
Plan your work, then work your plan
Making good use of your action list
- In order to bring focus into your life and make good use of your action list, identify potential distractions. Ask yourself, “What are some of the things that might prevent me from completing these tasks?”. Distractions can be things like checking emails/text messages, making social calls, going out, not getting up in the morning, associating with people that make it hard to keep your goal. Make a plan to prevent those things from standing between you and your goal.
- Good use of technology and systems is an easy way to overcome challenges with time management. Use reminders, alarm clocks, white board messages or notices to make sure you stick to the plan.
- Make sure not to overload your list. This is a formula for frustration. If you finish the day feeling like you have not achieved enough, this is usually a sign you underestimated how long tasks were going to take or that you were not efficient. Remember to factor in break, meal times, cleaning, showers and other people’s needs, schedules, and breaks to rejuvenate.
- If you are going to try using this list, make sure you try it for at least 21 days. It takes 21 days to make a habit. You will be surprised how even one week of using an action list can change your life. Over time, you will get more efficient, have a better estimation of time and have spare time to have fun.
- Having tasks that never end can be very discouraging. Some people find it exhausting to have a tasks constantly on the list. They feel like they are not achieving anything. If there is something you have to do every day, make sure it is an item on your list, every day. Tick it off every day, write it again the next day. This will help with the feeling of “it never ends”. Try making it more interesting, change something in it, celebrate the achievement every time you tick it off.
- Find actions you can delegate. Ask yourself, “Will it be better if I do it myself or if I teach someone else to do it?” Think about this both for the short and the long term. Delegation does not mean you are not responsible, it means you will just have to follow up. Make sure to schedule a follow up in your action list on the right date.
- Commit to completing the listed actions, knowing that nothing can stop you. Take responsibility for doing whatever it takes to complete your action steps.
I hope this tips can help you use to-do lists effectively. Action lists have helped me manage very complex schedules over the years. Especially in a family setting, it can be hard to remember everyone’s schedules and plans. It helps to have everything in one place.
Merry list writing,