To-do lists can be the key to productivity, but only if they are believable and achievable.
Trying to be productive working from a brain-dump of everything we want to get done is NOT believable; it’s generally NOT achievable.
I hear this frequently when working with clients on productivity:
“I have a list of things I want to do and all the time in the world to do them, yet I don’t. What’s up with that?”
There is tremendous power in knowing what we are supposed to do and when we are supposed to do it. Once we slot in non-negotiables like appointments, many of us have a lot of unstructured time during the day.
I look at lists in a couple of different ways:
- A “to-do list” is a brain-dump of everything I want to accomplish.
- A “priority list” is the prioritized list of what needs to be done by when.
Here are some tricky things about to-do lists:
- Capturing all our to-do intentions in one place is a great start, but that list can be overwhelming.
- An overwhelming list may result in inactivity because conquering the list appears unachievable.
- Everything on the to-do list may seem to have the same weight.
- Often a to-do list isn’t prioritized by importance or due dates creating confusion about where to start.
Welcome to the “Priority List.”
Here are some steps that you can take to move items from a to-do list to a priority list:
- First and foremost, identify if the item on your list is a task or project. People often put a project that requires multiple steps over time on their to-do list, and the item becomes too daunting to tackle. “Sweep the floor” is a task; “pick out the new paint color for the bedroom” is a project. It’s helpful to break down your priority list into manageable steps and easily attainable.
- Recognize if there is a hard deadline, with consequences, that will help with prioritization. “Pay homeowner’s insurance” has a hard deadline, “pick out the new paint color for the bedroom” may not.
- Recognize if other stakeholders need to be a part of the action plan. If the task is something you can do on your own, great. Put the task on your list. If there is another stakeholder, put the task of consulting with the stakeholder on your list.
- Recognize if there are specific times of the day/week/month that are most suited to accomplishing the task. “Paying homeowner’s insurance” may be able to be slotted into any day/time; however, “Make a dentist appointment” may need to be put in a Monday-Friday, 9:00 – 5:00 timeslot.
Now that you have a priority list with a rough schedule of when things need to be done by when, take these next steps:
1. Slot around three items into each day. If you put too many priority items on each day, overwhelm may set in.
2. Start each with something easily attainable. Your brain will recognize the win, receive a dopamine hit, and be excited to take on the next task.
3. Mark each item as completed with a checkmark or drawing a line through the task. Not only will you have a visually recognizable way to track your accomplishments, but you may also get a second dopamine hit with that kinesthetic process.
Now that you have a roadmap on creating a believable and achievable priority list, where are you going to start?
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