You and I, we live in a fast-paced world. It doesn't matter if you're a stay-at-home parent running a household or a boss babe (or bro) in a business suit slaying the corporate world, we all have things we need to do; and most of us have a LOT of them. Learning how to manage it all and stay productive is key.
If you're like me, you're alllll 'bout dem to-do lists. Committing to dos to a physical/digital list brings me relief for a few reasons:
- Eliminates my concern I'll forget them
- Especially the future, non-immediate tasks/ideas
- Allows me to organize and prioritize my plan of attack
- Tethers them to a structured framework instead of floating around in my head causing anxiety
- Allows me to focus
I swear, my mind has approximately 167 tabs open at any given time (times two, when I'm trying to fall asleep, ya feel?!), as I'm sure many of you can relate. I have various ventures going on and balls in the air, and my brain is constantly assessing what needs to be done and generating ideas for progression. I mean, CONSTANTLY. In a word, it can be E X H A U S T I N G, but I wouldn't have it any other way. My brain doesn't work in a linear fashion (which can make certain tasks challenging and overwhelming). But it's me, it's the way my brain works, and I've learned how to work with it! Lists are a key element of that. They allow me to compartmentalize my life/to dos and break them down into manageable bites. As they say, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. [Side question: Why elephants? I ain't tryna eat a sweet, gentle elephant. Why can't it just be a really large watermelon? Are we all agreed? Cool.]
Anyway. Back to lists.
I recently finished reading Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, an excellent book on management and leadership (he also wrote Power of Habit, which I read prior to diving into Smarter Faster Better and blogged about earlier; both are fantastic). He has a great way of presenting studies and supporting evidence in an easily digestible way through a narrative method. He sprinkles in relevant stories and examples to scaffold his assertions and illustrate his points so it's not so, you know, friggin' dull.
So in his book he advises using stretch goals. These are lofty goals that you have to, you know, stretch for (apt term, right?). This helps you really maximize your potential and evolve, to truly promote productivity and personal growth (all good things). However, having a list of solely stretch goals isn't stellar, because we neeeed bursts of feelings of accomplishment to help us stay focused, committed, and motivated. Quick little high fives and butt slaps to help us feel like we're doing well and progressing. These help fill our tanks to keep us going on our journey to ultimate fulfillment.
Ideally, our lists will include a series of short-term, achievable proximal goals (not too lofty/out of reach/far off) via the SMART system:
- S: Specific
- M: Measurable:
- A: Achievable
- R: Realistic
- T: Time-bound
For example, let's say you aspire to de-clutter your house. Here's how you could incorporate the SMART method:
- Specific: Focus on one room, e.g. kitchen
- Measurable: Decrease items/appliances on counter to a certain amount, such as six, and de-junk five kitchen drawers
- Achievable: Adjust the scope to your *realistic* timeframe, schedule, and energy level. Maybe only focus on just the counters and a couple of drawers. Adjusting the scope will help break it down into doable bites to help you from feeling overwhelmed from the task, and frustrated if you don't complete it within the designated time.
- Realistic: Don't aim for a complete kitchen makeover in one afternoon.
- Time-bound: Set your timer for two hours. This will hold you to a deadline and keep you accountable.
Some of Duhigg's advice that was new for me was to avoid listing easy items you can check off right away, just for that feel goodness. As he avers, that signals you're using it for mood repair, not productivity. In other words, by doing so, you're more focused on making yourself feel awesome than actually getting shiz done. I mean, yeah, duh, we all want to feel awesome BUT...we'll feel even MORE awesome by amplifying productivity.
As Duhigg explains, the problem with many to-do lists is when we write down a series of short-term objectives, we're allowing our brains to seize on the sense of satisfaction each task will deliver. We're encouraging our need for closure and our tendency to freeze on a goal without asking if it's the right aim. The result is we spend hours answering unimportant emails instead of writing a big thoughtful memo - because it feels so satisfying to clean out our box. But then...we still feel the bigger task(s) weighing on us, which we ignored.
As Peter Drucker notes in The Effective Executive (another superb read):
In other words, work smarter, not harder! We have limited time each day, so we need to make the most of it. By prioritizing our to-do lists and choosing our tasks with care, we'll maximize our 24 hours and handle our days like the ballers we are.