I have a problem. My To Do list is ongoing. More than ongoing. It’s two columns on two full pages and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember starting one.
I keep doing it because I’m convinced that it keeps my mind clear. I keep doing it because I’m convinced that if I don’t, I’ll forget to do so many things that it’ll feel like those nightmares where I suddenly realize there’s a final exam I didn’t know about and I didn’t even come to class all semester.
I tried not keeping a list. I tried adding things like “eat” and “sleep” so I could feel instantly accomplished. These were not long lasting solutions.
Here’s my new approach:
- Rename “To Do List” to “Goals List”.
A To Do List is another way of saying “chores” in my mind and it hangs over my head like an umbrella needing replacement. (Oh. Right. Gotta add that to the list.) A Goal List, on the other hand, has motivation and fervor. I have 122 goals! And you thought the popular goals question “Where will you be in 5 years?” was tough. (Another alternative I learned from Chris Wark: He calls it a “Stresses to Eliminate” List. Brilliant!)
On the nights that I pick seven-ish things off the list and schedule them into the next day, the more I get done. See, I often waste time reading the list, sighing over the list, and deciding what takes priority next. (Waiting on hold with customer service or filling out that annoying paperwork? Hmmn.) That time creates a snowball effect of the low-energy decisions to follow. Scheduling tasks into a day takes it down to being realistic and it automatically creates productivity.
- Create a fun environment.
The more annoying the task, the more fun to create around it. Make the task not something to get overwith, but something to balance with. For example, if your list says “clean room” It can be “clean room + listen to Frangela’s (comedy team) podcast.” Balance each task with its fun counterpart that you may not get to do enough of either.
- Reflect. A.k.a. Hug Your Day.
I think most of us don’t give ourselves credit for what we’ve accomplished, and I know my To Do has given me a sense that I never do enough. I suggest creating a daily To Done List where you list all the small things you did that would otherwise pass you right by. Did you finish a project? Help someone at work? Glue something? Clean up a broken mug? (Oh. Right. Gotta add mug to the list.)
Not only is the list going to be ongoing, but so is daily life and there are so many unexpected twists within it. That includes those moments we didn’t plan on that get us “off list” (getting somewhere late, cleaning up the mug…), but it also includes all of those serendipitous moments that enrich our lives in ways we never expected.
Pay just as much attention to those, and the list will shrink to its appropriate size, keeping the whole To Do from becoming a whole to do.