Do you keep a list? Is it on your cell phone, or laptop, or perhaps, even on paper? Do you update it on a daily or weekly (or hourly) basis? Are there categories such as long term and short term goals? Do you divide it by work projects, social engagements, and personal items, or is it all jumbled together? Do you love crossing things off your list, or do you just put things on your list and forget about them? Importantly, is your list functional and useful, or does it make you more and more anxious each time you add an item?
Many successful people use lists, and they use them effectively. Their lists are almost always more than simple “to-dos.” Instead, they contain discreet categories and a definite structure. However, keeping a list doesn’t guarantee usefulness or productivity, A list may help you do a better job (and get ahead at work) or it can disguise and hide your lack of effort or success. As you revise or copy over your list from week to week or month to month, do you take time to evaluate it, or is redoing your list just a gimmick to make you feel or appear organized?
Perhaps it is time for you to redesign your to-do list and add a list evaluation component. Suppose, at the end of each week, you do a thorough list analysis. Start by adding a few new and relevant sections. Begin with a “week in review” category. Under that heading, include what went well and what your major challenges were during the past week. Can you see a take-away lesson there? Did you lose focus? Did you procrastinate or put off some activity because you dislike doing it? Was there wasted effort?
Then, as you think about the coming week, list your focus goals—those things that require your main focus for the next five days. What things must be added, and, perhaps more importantly, what should you stop doing, or, at least defer? Can you prioritize your list by days of the week? Can you further prioritize it by key actions? Can you then match blocks of time on your calendar to your key actions? If finishing that report will take two hours, can you block off two hours on Monday, etc.?
There is nothing magical about making a list. A child can do one. What is magical is making a functional list—one that actually helps you stay organized and focused. A disciplined list is worth your effort. Any other type is simply a waste of good time.