Why Your To Do List Sucks (and two ways to instantly make yourself much more effective)
by Robin Sacks
by Robin Sacks
You will never feel good about your to do list. As a matter of fact, the traditional to do list is a sure way to feel like you've failed.
Traditional to do lists fail you for one simple reason - they don't ever end.
Think about it - you will never accomplish your entire to do list. Even as you go through days checking things off in a very productive manner, you are constantly adding things to that same list.
That is why it never ends.
From a feelings standpoint, that can create overwhelm and stress because there is never an end in sight. The feelings that come with accomplishment and completion are never enjoyed.
I believe there's a much better way to handle your to do items and also feel great about it!
These are two approaches that I use. They differ from the traditional list style in that they give you a feeling of control every single day, and allow you to feel completion and accomplishment on a daily basis.
The first thing is that 100% of my to-dos go directly on my calendar. They are assigned a specific day and/or a specific time. If there are tasks that need to be done in a certain order, or by a certain day, I will look at my calendar and schedule them appropriately.
For example, if I have library returns due on the 10th of the month, "return library items" will be directly on my calendar on the 8th of the month (building in a small grace period is a little trick that takes all the stress out of it). If I have a speaking engagement, and part of that contract is that I will provide 100 of my books for the attendees, if that speaking engagement is on November 15th, on September 15th there's an task on my calendar that simply says "order 100 copies of 'Get Off My Bus.'
I schedule tasks in a way that gives me time to get them done before they need to be. Also, once it's on my calendar, I can forget about it until it reminds me to do it. In other words, I don't stare at a long list of things I need to do every time I look at it (that's really stressful and makes you feel like you have 'a million things to do,' which you do not!). If there happen to be a few tasks on my calendar for that day that are not time specific, I may schedule a half an hour or hour appointment with myself that is simply to do tasks. Boom! Done!
The idea here is that, by doing it this way instead of using a traditional to do list, it puts me in total control of my day. I know exactly what I need to do, and often exactly when I'm going to do it.
That feeling of control is exactly what I'm talking about. Whereas a traditional to do list can make you feel unsatisfied or overwhelmed, putting tasks directly on your calendar helps you to control the day so it cannot control you.
That's a great feeling!
The other place that I put repeating things that would be on my to do list is on what I call my 'non-negotiable list.' This is sort of like a habit tracker. If there are things that are going to be on my to-do list on a daily basis, those things don't go on to my calendar, they do not move over from one day to the next if not completed, and the list is exactly the same every single day.
They either get checked off or they don't get checked off. (Of course, the goal is to check every one of them off every single day.)
These are things that you have chosen to do on a daily basis knowing that, if you do little things consistently, they will get you the end results you are seeking.
Let me give you some examples of what is on my daily non-negotiable list. This is exactly my current list: meditate, exercise, writing, publishing, reading, learning, Duolingo, LinkedIn, fruits, vegetables.
These are things I do every single day, without fail, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Why? Because these are the core habits and actions that will get me exactly what I am working toward both personally and professionally. These are the things that will get me to my current end goals.
These things might look a little bit different everyday, but every one of them will be legitimately checked off by the time I lay down to go to sleep every night.
How might they look different? Let me share some examples.
A couple of years ago, after trying meditation on and off for a few years, I buckled down and decided that daily meditation offered a huge benefit that I wanted in my life. Being a very energetic, very loud, and extremely talkative type person, who also trains and coaches people about stress management and setting personal boundaries, the ability to be in control of my own calm and of being able to quiet my mind when I wanted or needed to, is an invaluable skill.
I aim for 10 minutes of meditation a day. Some days, I do 90 seconds of meditation. On other days, I do 30 minutes. But whether I do 90 seconds or 30 minutes, I am able to check it off my daily list.
The habit is what matters; the time can change.
It's the same with exercise. It's something on my list that gets crossed off every single day. That is a non-negotiable of mine. However, there are days where I might do a 30 or 45 minute workout at home, and there are days where I get to the end of the day having done nothing. When that happens, I simply make myself get down on the floor and do a plank for 1 minute before I go to bed. Whether I have done 1 minute of exercise or 1 hour of exercise doesn't matter. Both will allow me to check exercise off my list for that day.
For LinkedIn, I may post one thing that was a shared article of someone else's, or I might post four things that day, two of which I wrote. For fruits and vegetables, I will go to the fridge and grab a strawberry or eat a carrot if I didn't have the chance to eat something more, such as a nice salad with my lunch. Learning is about learning one thing a day, but on some days, I learn a whole bunch of things!
The point is this - when there are little things that are done consistently, they will get you to the goals you have for your life. Those things should never go on a traditional to-do list. Those things should go on non-negotiable list. They should motivate and inspire you to do them every single day without fail. These habit trackers make it so that you can't not do these things.
Reworking your daily task list can help you to reach your goals quicker and more effectively. It can also help you make small advances every day that make reaching those goals much easier and less overwhelming. If all I do for the next 30 days was do a 1-minute plank, 90 seconds of meditation, interacted for 5 minutes on LinkedIn and ate one fruit and one vegetable, do you realize how much further ahead I will be both with my mental and physical health and my professional presence?!? It doesn't take much; it does take consistency.
I invite and encourage you - no, I challenge you - to rework your to do list. Is it causing you to feel overwhelmed and stressed, or is it allowing you to feel accomplished and closer to all of your goals every day?
By using these two tactics, you will instantly not only feel more in control of your day, everyday, but you will actually take control of your life.