A To-do List Won’t Help You Master Your Life.
I came across a quote from Tony Robbins last week, and it reminded me of the tyranny of to-do lists. Now, I don’t mean to imply that to-do lists cannot work; they can, but the way most people use them destroys productivity and forces people to work on unimportant things. For example, returning Peter Franks’s call or replying to Irma Bunt’s email is a lot easier than developing and executing a personal promotion track plan or planning what you would like to accomplish over the next five years.
“A to-do list won’t help you become a master of your own life — it will simply make you feel like you’re not doing enough. You’re ultimately sabotaging yourself. To truly grow, you have to learn life management skills instead of just piling more tasks on your plate.”
To-do lists are great at helping you get things under control. By listing everything you think needs to be done, you can see what really needs doing and what can be eliminated. You’ll often find things there that have been on a to-do list for so long it would be embarrassing to do them now, so the best course of action would be to delete them.
Ultimately, you want your to-do list to be focused on you and what you want out of life. What should be on your to-do list needs to be meaningful and forward-looking. Responding to emails and returning calls are backwards-looking; they are reactive because they respond to someone else’s command. Likewise, preparing for a team meeting where you have to explain what you have done is backwards-looking.
Meaningful tasks are tasks that move things forward. For example, solving problems, creating and acting on strategies to achieve your long-term goals and ways to strengthen your relationships are all forward-looking tasks.
The biggest problem with to-do lists is that we often feel we must keep adding to the list instead of removing from the list. I frequently come across people who think that they are not working hard enough if they don’t have enough tasks on their to-do list. Yet, to work hard on the things that matter requires your to-do list to be short, or as I like to call it, “clean and tight”.
Clean and tight means clear of low-value tasks — tasks that could be deleted or delegated, and tight means there are a minimum number of tasks on the list for the day. This is why methods like Ivy Lee’s six priority tasks per day work so well. It forces you to think about high-value tasks instead of competing with yourself on how many tasks you can do each day.
You can ask yourself questions like What can I do today that would have the biggest impact on my life? A great question to ask when planning the day. Occasionally, the answer to that question could be to get your email under control or take some time off to go for lunch with your partner. While these tasks might seem unimportant when many other things are screaming at you, the result of getting your email under control or having a romantic lunch with your partner will far outweigh anything else you could do with your time that day.
I recently saw a video on Facebook where a father dressed up in a different fancy costume every day to meet his daughter from the school bus. Not only did it bring a smile to his daughter’s face, but it also lit up the faces of all the other kids on the bus too. That daughter knows her father loves her and is willing to spend quality time with her. Likewise, I have a client who prioritises a shopping adventure or film night with her teenage daughters every week. Those are meaningful things to do.
What do you consistently do for your family?
This is your life; it’s too short to spend all your days worrying about Mr Small-Fawcett’s faulty swimming pool filter. We need to make the most of what time we have. Your employed work is just one part of your life; It is not your whole life. Know what you are employed to do and do that to the best of your abilities, but never neglect your own desires and wants. These should take precedence over everything else.
The key to making this work is to build structures into your day. Assign time for dealing with Irma Bunt’s emails and Peter Frank’s call by setting aside an hour a day for dealing with all your communications. Delegate Mr Small-Fawcett’s filter problem to the correct department, and block time out each day for the essential things in your life: Family and relationships and your health and fitness, for instance.
The truth is you have enough time for the important things in life and your employed work, but you need to identify what is important to you and what your core, employed work is, then make sure you have sufficient time set aside for doing it.
So, if you haven’t thought about what you want out of life, stop, move away from your keyboard and think about it. Write out what you would like to be doing with your time, and build whatever you need to do each day to make that a reality in your daily life. You’ll soon find your to-do list becomes inspirational, exciting, and you’ll look forward to each day with oodles of energy.
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