NOTE FROM BOB: If you have been around the site for a while you know that we have many writers with differing opinions and approaches to things. I personally prefer this and love hearing opposing views as they help me consider new things that I may not have and help me to continue to grow. Today’s post is no different. I am actually a huge fan of to-do lists and can’t imagine my life without Todoist.com, but I think Carol brings up some really good points in this article that will definitely be helpful to a lot of readers. Enjoy!
Previously I shared with you how I keep my goals for the New Year in front of my face. I want you to know that it’s working out great. But in the day-to-day workings of a writing business, that visual only shows goals. How am I supposed to turn that into a daily task list?
My Problem with To-Do Lists
First, I have a problem with to-do lists. I am an overachiever. When I make a to-do list, it will have a bazillion things on it. I will put everything on that list from “write a new blog post” to “trim my fingernails.” I will put on that list absolutely everything I want to do, ever, for everything. Then, that evening when I’m looking over my list to see how I did, I end up discouraged because only two things were crossed off.
“Good grief, Carol. You only did two things on your list today. What did you waste your time on?” That’s how I think. And then I go to bed feeling defeated, like I didn’t accomplish anything.
It doesn’t matter that the plumbing backed up and that I had a flat on the way to the hardware store.
It doesn’t matter that when my son put the spare on that we discovered it was also flat.
It doesn’t matter that when I finally returned home I realized I had left the stove on because smoke was coming out the kitchen window when I pulled in the driveway and I had a melted pan on the stovetop.
It doesn’t matter that I splashed drain-opener on myself while fixing the pipe and ended up in the doctor’s office to treat the subsequent burns.
What matters is that I only did two things on my to-do list!
I cannot give myself a break.
My “Not To-Do” Graphics
The first step I’ve taken to overcome feeling defeated on a daily basis is to create a “not-to-do list.” This isn’t really a list; it’s another graphic. It could look like this:
Take each section of your Goal Graphic and paste it in the center of a piece of paper. Then write down ideas for accomplishing each goal, in pencil, as much as you can fit on the paper. (Do not use a pen, use a pencil. I’ll explain later.) On this example, I have lists of blog post ideas, people to call, and websites to look at – everything I can think of to do. Do this for each section of your Goal Graphic and when you are done, you will have five of these brainstorming sheets. I call them my not-to-do graphics. You can call them whatever you want.
Each day, when I can get to my desk, I look at these sheets and pick one thing to do and get busy. Ideally, I will do one thing from each sheet. (Remember the “five actionable steps” from the last post?) But if I get interrupted and don’t get that far, that’s okay. I just work on one thing at a time. When I get that one thing done, I erase it from my not-to-do graphic. I do not cross it off. I do not want the temptation of going back to see how many things I’ve crossed off; I just want it to disappear.
My “What I Did Today” List
After I erase something from my not-to-do graphic, I write it on my “what-I-did-today list.” I do not keep this list on a piece of paper because, like my Goal Graphic, I don’t want to lose it. I keep this list in Evernote. You could keep it as a Word document, or on a phone app. It doesn’t matter where you keep it, as long as you keep it in a prominent location. This picture is what my what-I-did-today list looks like:
Did you notice that I also put everything else I did on there, too? I work from home. I am a mom and a homemaker. I attempt to work part-time hours on my business but sometimes life gets in the way. Plumbing backs up, tires go flat, kids get sick. But because I attend to these minor emergencies, that doesn’t mean I was non-productive. And I don’t want to look at my “list” and be lied to. This method might seem backwards, but it gives me a truthful picture of my productivity and keeps me from going to bed each night feeling defeated.
Don’t let your to-do list get you down. Be encouraged by looking at the full picture. Start a not-to-do and a what-I-did-today list. You will be surprised about how much you actually get done.
What are your thoughts on to-do lists? Do you find them helpful or do you regularly get discouraged by your to-do list like Carol? Leave a comment! What other productivity tips do you like?