I don’t know about you, but I am a huge list person. Because of how many of our brains work, many of us take the tasks and chores set before us and decide that the best way to accomplish these goals is to put them all in a list. If you’re not a list person, this might seem like an unnecessary intermediate step, as you’re able to organize all of your thoughts and priorities perfectly in your head. It must be nice to have that sort of uncluttered thinking despite all the demands on your time, but alas, I’ll never know, as a definitive list person.
checklist, red pen, check mark
Lists help you keep everything straight and prevent you from forgetting what needs to be done amidst the chaos of the day, provided that you remember to reference that list. (Perhaps a list on which lists to check is in order?) But lists, once compiled, can also be a daunting reminder of what needs to be done, and thus what you’re hoping you can procrastinate and avoid working on.
The to-do list doesn’t need to be nearly the challenge we make it out to be in our imagination, provided that we can frame our mindset and motivation in a way that has us almost eager to mark “done” next to as many items as possible.
Take on the hardest things first. We’ve all been guilty of looking at a list of things to do and picking out the easiest, least time- and effort-consuming things as our first priorities. Are we simply delaying the inevitable? Sure, but at the moment we’re more than happy to do so; those harder chores are the problem of you a day or week from now, someone entirely separate from you right now. It’s twisted and flawed logic when we step back to examine it, but the logic that procrastinators have been using for generations to some effect, albeit only ever short-term benefit. Why not pick out the hardest, least-anticipated thing you have to do on your list and tackle it straight away? Your biggest obstacle and dread will be removed from your path, and everything else you have to do will seem that much easier by comparison.
Set tangible targets for yourself. With any list of goals or objectives, it’s easy to fill with aspirations and big, overarching targets. And while it’s good to have your biggest goals down on paper (or on whatever digital app you’re using), it’s often the case that your biggest goals set off in the future are the ones less well-defined. Maybe you want to land a big partnership or acquisition for your company, but what are the actionable items that you can take on in order to progress towards that endpoint? Even the intermediate steps can be a bit too big for a list meant to guide your actions in the here and now. We need to think both big and small, identifying where we want to end up and every step along the way
Celebrate the small victories. It’s often the case that we’re harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be; to that point, we can be disappointed when we’re not achieving 100% of our goals or frustrated that there still remains plenty of tasks before us and miles to go before we sleep. It’s great to retain that hunger and drive towards success and away from complacency, but it’s not settling if one is happy with the smaller, quieter accomplishments along the way. Celebrating the successes as you go towards a bigger target is what allows us to keep going, offering encouragement and motivation about what you’ve accomplished to that point. Checking off a handful of boxes on a list of tens of tasks isn’t the end of your work, but it’s no small feat, either.
Unfortunately, lists don’t make the work itself any easier, nor does making the list itself represent some midway point to actually accomplishing what needs to be done in the tasks therein, but lists are an organizing principle. Plus it’s certainly better to attack your work methodically rather than a more scattershot approach. At a minimum, they capture what needs to be done and provide a means to track your progress to your goal, and seeing your proximity to the end of your work always offers that extra lift needed to keep going. Let’s not fear the to-do list as a millstone around our neck but rather as daily instructions towards future success. #onwards.