I have spent many years using some kind of todo list to manage my tasks, projects and time. Being able to see what I have to do on a list is both satisfying and helpful, as it has always given me a view of what needs to be done on any given day.
However, I have discovered there are todo lists and then there are great todo lists. Normal todo lists help you to get things done and contribute towards your feeling of busyness and stress. Great todo lists help you to move your life forward in achieving your life goals, help you feel in complete control of what is important in your life and give you an overall sense of real accomplishment.
Normal todo lists are simply lists of all the things you have identified that need to be done. These could be things like reply to email, prepare the monthly purchase list or buy dog food on the way home. Great todo lists are different. Of course they still contain the things you have to do for that day, but they also focus on an additional component that normal todo lists ignore and that is the things you want to achieve in your life, both professionally and personally. This is why simply having a single list of tasks that you add to when a new task comes in and cross off once a task has been completed is only half the story.
Turning your todo list into a list that helps you accomplish great things is easy to do. All you need do is identify three things you could do that day that would have a significant impact on your overall life goals. They do not have to be huge things either. They could be simple tasks that move you forward towards something bigger than just maintaining your life where it is right now.
For example. If one of your life goals is to write a book, then sitting down at some point in the day and writing out a character sketch of one of the characters you would like in your book would move you closer to writing a book. This type of task might only take twenty minutes, but it does take you closer towards the goal of writing the book you have always wanted to write. You might have a task to go for a thirty minute walk at lunch time, this would take you a little bit closer to losing the 5KG you have planned to lose this year. It is these little tasks that soon build up into something significant in your life.
Of course, to do this you need to have identified what is important to you in your life and what you really want to accomplish. Not knowing what you want out of life is like embarking on a journey not knowing where you want to go. While the adventure might be exciting, there is always a fifty fifty chance you will be disappointed with the destination. It is far better to have a clear idea of where you want to go, and to have a reasonably good idea of how you are going to get there. The journey is just as exciting.
To identify what is important, you need to take some time to find out. I also know as time passes our dreams and goals change and something we identified as a goal last year, may no longer be that important to us today. This is fine. Indeed, this is perfectly normal. Our goals, aspirations and dreams will change as we gain more experience in life. They change when we get married, they change when we have children and they often change when we change jobs. Change is an inevitability of life.
Once you have identified what is really important to you, then you should spend a few minutes at the end of the day to flag the three things you can do tomorrow that will take you a little closer to achieving that goal or dream. Something as simple as putting $10.00 in your savings account would take you a little closer to buying the Jaguar F Type you dream of owning, or Setting aside one hour at the end of the day to spend with your daughter would give you some of that quality time you keep promising you would have with your daughter.
Too often we confuse ticking off a lot of tasks on a todo list with accomplishment. But the truth is if those tasks do not move you closer to your goals and dreams then you are not accomplishing very much at all. These tasks might help you keep your life where it is right now, but I am sure you want far more from your life than to stay where you are right now. To change that, make sure each day you have at least two or three things on your list that are flagged and drive you towards your goals and dreams. Doing this means you are accomplishing significant things every single day and before long you have what you want out of life. Writing 500 words every day for your book means you will have written a 60,000 word novel in a little over four months. Not bad at all I am sure you will agree.
You can test this out this week. What is on your mind you want to change about you? Now add a task each day to your task list that takes you closer to that change. Doing a simple task each day for a whole week would take you significantly closer to the outcome you desire. This could be something like repairing a damaged friendship. You could start with texting an apology and asking if you could talk. Making that first contact could change everything. If it does not, you could try something else. Or it could be doing some online research into a Masters degree course you would like to take. Finding out which universities do the course and whether or not they offer a correspondence course. All these little things take you closer to your desired outcome.
I believe anything is possible if we put our mind to it and do something that takes us towards that outcome every day. You just need to identify what that something is and make sure it is on your daily todo list and is flagged.
Set aside some time this week to have a think about your long term goals and see what you can do each day that will bring those goals closer to achievement. This is a far better way of using a todo list than the regular way most people use their todo lists. Lists of stuff they have to do just to stay where they are today.
Start turning your activity into accomplishment.
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Carl Pullein is the author of Working With Todoist: The Book, as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl also works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.