The goals you have for your life are only as good as your daily to-do list. You can make all the grand plans you want, but if you don’t stay on track each day, you won’t reach those goals. To-do lists are for people who believe in their dreams and their ability to reach them. List makers create daily plans for success. In other words, everyone should have a daily to-do list.
If you aren’t careful, however, your list will become more of a procrastination aid than dream machine. Here are seven typical ways you can undermine your list:
1. Ignore it. This is my pet thing to do. If I can’t handle my life that day, I don’t look at my list. This allows me to think I don’t need to do anything. But then the rest of the week is hell because I’m compensating for stuff I ruined by ignoring it. It would have been easier to review my list, accomplish the most pressing items, and then go back to bed.
2. List vague tasks. Take, for example, “work on presentation”. When is this job finished? How many things need working on? Why would you start this chore if you have no plan for completing it? This item is like poison ivy — you see it and go another direction. Break down the items on your list into manageable parts. Besides crossing items off the list is fun, and the more to cross off the better.. I’ve been known to write “buy envelopes” as one of the tasks needed to send resumes. It’s an easy step in a hard process — makes me feel like I’m getting something done in my big-picture goal of landing a job.
3. Create a wish list. A wish list is not a to-do list. It’s important to have life goals and it’s nice to be lofty, but no point in putting “buy a house” on your to-do list. If you really can buy a house, try listing an easier item like, “call mortgage broker” If you can’t get that far, make a list of things you’d like to have in 10 years. Include “buy a house” and post this list on your fridge. Then get back to your to-do list — every 10-year plan is the culmination of 3,650 daily to do lists.
4. Switching manically between types of tasks. E-mail, phone, errand, e-mail, phone, errand. This is not a productive day. A good day is e-mail,e-mail, e-mail, phone, phone, phone, errand, errand, errand. So organize your to-do list so that you do all your e-mails in one or two sittings.
5. List items you’d like to do but shouldn’t. These are fun things like learn 1000 words in Italian or knit an extra-large sweater. Most working professionals do not have time for these in a typical day. Unproductive adults indulge themselves in doing them anyway because it makes them feel productive. I know I do not have time to make cupcakes for my husband’s birthday and I should buy him a cake from the local bakery. But I put “making cupcakes” on my to-do list anyway, and then, when he comes home, I’m annoyed because making his cupcakes ruined my workday.
6. Lose sight of the big picture. How many people are unemployed but don’t have “get a job” on their list? If you’re among them, good for you — because “get a job” is too vague. But you should include job-search-related tasks, such as “Send out six resumes” or “make two networking calls”. So many people omit chores related to their most important goal because they seem obvious. But if you don’t put them on the list, they won’t happen.
7. Write a novel. A list is not a novel. It is one page.