The Art of Making a Simple "To Do" Lists so You Get More Done

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You want to accomplish so much each week, but many times you feel behind. This feeling of not being able to keep up can get us all feeling a bit depressed. We really try hard, but we just aren’t able to keep up.

Could it be that you feel behind because your expectations are too high?

Most of my clients think they are “behind”, but it’s because they want to be in a better place with their career. This is natural. If you didn’t strive for more and better, your business/career would fail.

But learning to understand and accept where you are is an important part of the process to grow your career or business. You can’t fast forward to greater success. You and I can only use one minute at a time to get our work done. This requires focused action.

And even if/when you get to that level of success that you only dreamed about, you’ll probably want to move forward to even greater success. We humans are strivers, which means that we want to keep improving and get better results. It is at least partially responsible for making us viable as a species.

Where or When Does the Wanting Stop?

Being satisfied with your position or success is difficult, and can even feel a bit wrong.

I get it. I still struggle with enjoying where I am because I also see how much more I want to accomplish. You accomplish an amazing project like writing a book and before it’s done you are probably thinking about the next book or next project.

So the key is to understand you are only one person, and there are only so many hours in a day.  And I hope you realize that not all of your time can be spent on work and also hope to stay sane or healthy or have good relationships or prevent burnout and loss of creativity.

I’ve tackled this “problem”, and I’m going to give you a quick explanation of how I’ve created my daily “to do” list to make my life better and more productive without going crazy..

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of lists because they help me keep track of what I need to get done, and they help me stay focused on doing the important work. I use Asana to keep track of my big “to do” list, and it’s a great free app.

When I get a “task” type email from a client or I need to follow up on an opportunity, I adjust the subject line, forward it to Asana under a special email address, and it automatically populates into my task list. I use Dispatch on my iPhone to help make this easier. The mail app that came with my phone didn’t have this capability.

Main List – Monthly List

I have a list in Asana that I can reference whenever I need to know what to do next. This list is mostly the major projects that I need to get done for my clients and myself.

I write down everything that I think will move my business forward. If I want to work on a book, I’ll put this on the list. If I notice that I keep avoiding a project, I stop putting it on my to-do list, and that goes on a document that has a list of all the major projects I might eventually like to work on.

I finished the Unlock Your Career Happiness guide because of this system. I chipped away at it every single week, so I mark off tasks in Asana as I complete them. It’s so close to being done, I can see the project finish line.

If you want to, you can actually check it out and see how it can help you improve your career and happiness by clicking here. There are some cool early buyer bonuses you can grab before I remove them for good.

The Art of the Daily List

I do a daily list on a small Post-it note. I pick 1 main project to work on and 3 tasks that support that project. Each task is a part of the project that will help me make the biggest impact in my career. This is where it can get tricky. I focus on this one main project for only 3 hours. The rest of the day might be dedicated to email, fun task, calls, etc.

I only schedule this high level work for 3 hours because it’s draining. I know that I’ll need a break to celebrate my hard work. Which is usually a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood. It helps me process this block of time while recharging my internal battery. You only have so much energy in the tank for high level work that’s why it’s good to get it done earlier in the day. If you put it off the type of work that grows your career might never get done.

If your “to do” list of 3 things for the day is too broad, and one of the items might take 1.5 days to accomplish, then you aren’t creating the type of list that will make you feel happy at the end of the day because you’re setting yourself to feel like a failure.

You need to make a list of 3 tasks that you can reasonably do within 3 hours. One might take 1 hours, another 30 minutes, and the other 1.5 hours. By making your list complete-able, then you are much more likely to feel happy when you have completed them all in one day, and then be at least a little happier and possibly more productive the next day. If your list is too comprehensive and too much of a stretch you are hurting your confidence and productivity.

But, here is where it can get fun, if you follow my suggestion below.

Underneath the 3 tasks, write something about how you will celebrate when you accomplish the task. If you do, you’ll reward your hard work, supporting your ability to build good work habits while also creating some external motivation that will layer on top of your intrinsic motivation. Of course you’ll need intrinsic motivation (curiosity for what will happen after you look at your finished tasks), but a little positive external motivation can make the process a little more fun. If the task is tedious it is hard to feel curious about the outcome.

For example I had to stuff thousands of marketing bags and my intrinsic motivation was very much lacking. I tried my best to understand my why, but by creating an extrinsic motivation like going for a quick walk after stuffing 2 boxes, approximately 500 bags I would be able to go relax and call my girlfriend, friend, brother, etc. It helped me finish up my 2 boxes a little bit faster than I otherwise would have been able to do.

By creating a fun celebration after each project, you are encouraging yourself to stay focused and follow through. You will notice that when you are curious about the outcome, then sometimes you might not even need to reward yourself afterwards. The natural reward of completing the task will be an adequate reward in and of itself.

Your Turn

How do you encourage yourself to stay productive at work?  Do you make simple lists, or do you have an even better technique for getting things done and feeling happy?

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