Updated: Jun 11, 2019
When I ask people how many to-do lists they have, they think about all the places they keep their tasks. There are tasks in your inbox. There may be tasks on your phone (missed calls to return and texts to reply to). There are tasks in your social media (people to connect with on Facebook or links to reply to on LinkedIn. There are tasks in your handbag or briefcase (business cards from interesting people that you really meant to connect with).
The perceived wisdom is that you should have only one to-do list (and that certainly helps) – but what concerns me is NOT how many items on your list, how you keep it, what technology you use. It really doesn’t matter a jot whether you use a to-do list app, put things in your calendar, or keep a physical notepad.
What concerns me is that for most people, your to-do list sets you up to fail.
Almost everyone I meet tells me they are regularly dissatisfied with the progress they make; they get to the end of the day and say “I’ve done nothing today” or with a sigh, they tell me “I ended up doing…” When you say ‘I ended up doing’, what you’re really saying is that you were in control of your time, and if you are truly not in control of your time, you are destined to experience a feeling of failure every day.
So why is it so hard to be in control?
Sure, there are lots of distractions, and the pace of information coming at us can make things pretty hectic. But you are the master of your own ship, so how come it’s not going where you want it to go?
The bottom line is that we are unclear in our commitment. In my role as a public speaking coach, there is a saying that people giving a presentation actually have 3 speeches:
From the perspective of managing your to-do list, there is something to learn from this gap between 'what we have in mind' and 'what we actually achieve'.
It’s exactly the same with your To-do list.
To give this in perspective, here’s an example:
You say to yourself that you’re going to get these top 3 things done (and if you do you will be happy).
You do some or all of those 3 things, and not only that you attend to another 7 items.
Even though there are 10 items in total, including your top 3, you’re inexplicably dissatisfied, determined to work harder tomorrow – only to re-experience the same feeling of not having done enough.
The reason is that you also had an invisible secret list, an ambitious list that you don’t really commit to, but somehow you’re measuring yourself against it.
The cure is very simple – but not easy to put into practice.
In this way, you stop having three to-do lists. You just have one. What you said you would do, what you actually did, and what you wish you had done are exactly the same. Success! Any other tasks you do beyond that is a bonus. A by-product of doing what you say you’ll do every day is that it removes all the drag and negative energy you normally experience, so you quite quickly find that you just have more energy to put into other things.
If you commit to this philosophy 100% for 3 days in a row, you will experience yourself as powerful beyond measure. Try it and let me know how you get on.
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