To Do lists...help or hindrance?

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The start of another new year...a time for making plans, setting goals, committing to resolutions. Resolutions are notoriously difficult to stick to. Why? Because we often set ourselves unachievable goals, or try to accomplish too many things at once rather than focussing on one or two key areas. Which is why, by mid-way through February, we find ourselves disillusioned, beaten up, garnishing feelings of failure descending into bouts of self-loathing!

This is the same scenario for the "To Do" list. Yes, that crucial guiding light to see us through our busy day, if used incorrectly, could be more of a hindrance than a help. Most of us use it as a brain dump, a place to commit every thought, idea, or task to paper, however small or insignificant. Is it any wonder that we get to the end of the day and feel despondence at the 18 items still not crossed off? Another tendency is to tackle the small stuff first - it's natural to want to do all of the "easy wins" first, so that we get more "X's" on the list and in turn feel better about ourselves. But where does that leave us with the big stuff? The important stuff? The stuff that matters? It's time to tackle the To Do list in a whole new way.

  1. Firstly, stop calling it a "To Do" list and start thinking of it as a "To Succeed" list. Only items that will move you forwards should be on it. And it shouldn't be a huge list - you'll never finish it. One or two key tasks is what you should aim for, three at most. Ask yourself - "what one thing could I do today that would really move my career or my business forward?" and put that on the list. Everything else can go on your "I'll get to this when I can" list.

  2. Don't start the day by writing your list. You're only procrastinating and wasting valuable time. Write it the night before so you can start your day with action. If you do get distracted by the small stuff, use your "I'll get to this when I can" list, dump it ALL out of your head, then put it away, and quickly get back to setting your priority tasks.

  3. It's easy to let your mind wander to other things - emails, phone messages, what to cook for dinner. Set specific time aside to attend to other things that you know you need to do but that could interfere with you completing your "To Succeed" list. Allocate specific time to reading emails, checking messages, but DON'T get sucked into trying to address them all. Deal with them later, after you've completed your "To Succeed" list. If it's that important, put it on tomorrow's list. If there are any tasks that need your immediate attention, add them to today's priority list...and make sure you do them! Anything else can wait. BUT, don't make the mistake of ignoring issues that you'd rather not deal with - that's a road that leads to nothing good!

We all need help staying organised, whether it's in work or life. The key to being truly productive and thus achieving your goals is to know what your priorities are - be strategic in your thinking, focus on what you know will make a real and positive difference to you, then just go do it!

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