Can we all agree on that? Can we all accept the premise that if I give out 20 telephone numbers, including area codes, you may memorize the list but chances are you will most likely not be able to recite all 20 10-digit sequences in order a week from now or more?
(Unless you’re one of those freaky eidetic memory peeps, in which case … bah. This isn’t for you, anyway.)
(Yes, I’m envious.)
So here’s today’s productivity tip:
1. Make a list.
2. Check it
Make Your List
You can use an app, a text file, a Word document. Or you can go analog and use a day planner or a plain marble-covered composition notebook.
Personally, I love the feel of a paper list. But there’s one problem with going analog: you lose out on the ease of cut and paste.
Now that might not seem like such a big problem, especially if you’re only responsible for one business. But when you’re juggling one business + a day job + kids + dogs + creative work … trust, you’re gonna love the ol’ Cmd+X/Cmd+V (or Ctrl+X/Ctrl+V for you PCs out there).
Whatever you decide on, make a list. Get those to-do’s out of your brain and onto the page or the screen. You’ll very likely discover, as I did, that when you do this brain-dump consistently — moving your obligations from your brain to your list — your brain responds by becoming more proficient at the higher-level stuff you demand of it (i.e., creativity, learning, planning, etc.).
And stick with that method, whatever method you choose. Switching back and forth, evaluating this app and that piece of paper, or some other system will only net you lots of frustration and wasted time.
Give your new choice a three-week tryout, at least. It takes 21 days to form a new habit, and that’s a good length of time to figure out whether that method is right for you.
If it isn’t right — if you’re feeling compelled to evaluate some other method after that three-week period — then before you go on to the next method (and the next, and the one after that…), take a few minutes to get clear on exactly what wasn’t working. This helps you avoid the constant, never-ending “trying new apps” syndrome.
Check the List Often
What good is that list you so carefully devised and agonized over if you’re not checking it?
Well, it does some good, in that at least you’ve gotten the information out of your noggin, but it won’t help you achieve productivity superstar status.
Nope, to truly become ruthlessly productive, you’ve got to develop another habit: the habit of checking your list often.
How often? Up to you, entirely, but here are some suggestions:
- At the beginning of every day – this will help you stay on task for the day ahead, decide which of your many to-do’s are the most critical (aka “The HOP Test“)
- At the end of each day – check yourself and see how well you did, and prepare for the day ahead
- At the beginning of every work week – get a sense of your upcoming deadlines and scheduled tasks, and fill in the gaps in your calendar with the most important stuff first
- Whenever you feel overwhelmed – after you get your heart rate out of “massive myocardial infarction” range, get clear on the big picture. This is the critical first step to conquering overwhelm.
- When you’re not sure what to do next – a quick glance at the to-do list will give you some suggestions
- When you find yourself with unexpected time on your hands – this one in particular is a good reason to categorize your list by type or function (or “context” in Getting Things Done lingo). When you have 30 minutes to wait at the dentist’s office, and you can see you have 13 things on your list, and 3 of them can be done anywhere, with a notebook and pen for example (which you always carry with you – right??), then you can take advantage of those found opportunities.
Bottom Line: Play Santa!
So yes, boys and girls (and llamas), I am suggesting that you make a list and check it twice, or thrice, or as many times as you feel like (as long as you’re not using list-checking as a substitute for, y’know, actually doing shit).
How do you keep your list? Are you cuckoo for apps or are you an analog girl/guy? Tell us in the comments!