If you’re like most people, your to-do list could probably unfurl in the kitchen and hit the front sidewalk. Too often, it feels like we have too little time to be happy. Want to know the secret to a successful to-do list? Know what you mean by success.
There’s a distinct satisfaction to crossing off items on the to-do list. But if, on the heels of satisfaction, you’re feeling the weight of a hundred new things as you’re crossing off the one, you may need to reorganize. Success in the context of a to-do list means being aware at all times of the more considerable achievement at play. What larger goal are you seeking to meet as you knock off the tasks that get you there? Do you have a sense of how you will feel once you have reached that goal?
The Art of Getting It Done
There is a powerful method that makes a to-do item more likely to get done. Rather than compile vague ideas about what you have to do this week, split your list into two concrete sections: intention and execution. Write your goals at the top of the page. Then write the tasks you need to complete to achieve them beneath the goals. Be specific about your intention. Is it to contact five people as potential business partners? Or is your intent to get a partnership deal signed by the end of the week? Write it down.
Then be specific about execution. If you are just putting your feelers out there in the course of your week, then merely getting in contact will be fine. But if the deal is to get one partner signed in one week, you’re going to behave much more aggressively if your to-do list breaks down your intention into measurable outcomes.
Here is another example. If I intend to lose five pounds in two weeks, and I know running helps me, then I’ll put that five-pound goal on the top of my weekly to-do list. Under it, I’ll list the days I plan to run. It’s a way of recognizing what’s important to me and then backing into the to-dos with a higher recognition of my goal. The practice constantly moves me forward. The idea is that achieving my intention is way more action-inspiring than just crossing off a to-do item.
How It Looks on Paper
At the top of the list, I write my focus for the next four weeks, i.e., to lose 5 pounds, to have a better relationship with my brother-in-law, etc.
Then I list the action items I’d need to take to achieve that focus, i.e., run twice this week, lift weights three times. Midweek, I might start to begrudge my run, but right there, at the top of my list, I can see my focus. I remember how achieving my ultimate goal would make me happy, and it becomes easier to head out for my run. Aligning day-to-day tasks with their higher objectives is much more rewarding than just treating them as things to have to get done.
Once your intentions are clear, make a specific action list, and find ways to hold yourself accountable for completing those actions. My business partner and I hold each other accountable by going over our action lists every week. If we miss an action item on our agenda, we have to pay $5 into a pot. At the end of the quarter, we take that money and donate it to a charity. We find that letting go of $5 is not that dire. But having to face each other at the end of the week with incomplete items on our list is a huge motivator to get them accomplished.
How It Feels in Real Life
Redefining the to-do list is a simple concept that maximizes efficiency–and satisfaction–in surprising ways. If your greater intention is to get a lot of little stuff done to feel organized, I will challenge you to ask, “What is really my intention?” Is it to spend more time on your favorite pastimes and have a balanced banking account? Is it to relax in a clean house so you can share valuable time with your kids? If so, then even doing the dishes and washing the dog fulfills a higher ideal and feels really great.