To do lists are a staple of the time management and success industry. Between our day planners, Google docs and productivity apps, we have created more ways to "get ready to get things done" that actually "getting things done" somehow gets pushed completely off the list.
Now don't get me wrong, To-Do lists serve as a very useful tool but it is one tool that can be so easily abused, we render its usefulness, well useless.
Here's what I mean; our to-do list always starts off as a useful means for capturing all of the open loops and incomplete activities still running about in our heads. And as we all know, if it's still in our head, it's probably not getting done.
So what do we do? Well, we write all of it down, right?
That's a good thing!
Here's where things get tricky. While to-do lists serve as a useful collection of our tasks, goals, and best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial, useless, unimportant stuff that we feel obligated to get done.
Because once it's on our list it must be important. The insidious problem with our never ending to-do list is the indistinguishable nature between what matters most and what matters least.
Once something is on the list, no matter what it is, its importance inconspicuously increases (try to say that 5 times fast).
Priority is most often left out of the equation. Or at best, priority is randomly applied on the fly, driven primarily by how we feel in the moment.
Now contrast the "to-do" list with something Gary Keller, the author of the New York Times best seller The One Thing, calls the "success-list."
A success-list operates differently. It captures only the essentials that have already been vetted through the filter of clear measurable objectives that have been predetermined.
While a to-do list often gets long and seems never ending, a success-list is strategically small and is marked by clear progress once it's complete. A to-do list pulls you in all sorts of directions, while a success-list pulls you in a single direction.
Keller says, "...if a to-do list isn't built around the success you want, then your to-do list will NOT get you there."
So the operative question becomes:
With so many things to get done in our daily life, how do we turn our to-do list into our success-list?
How do we decide what matters most when everything seems important at that moment?
Let me keep it very simple for the both of us:
Step 1. Remember "important" is always relative.
Before something can be important it must exist within a context that you've already clearly established as "mattering most." If you have not established what matters most (in each of the 5 areas of your life: vocational, relational, spiritual, financial, recreational) it will be virtually impossible to establish meaningful priorities at the daily level. Please start there.
Step 2. 80/20 Rule everything.
Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century Italian economist, recognized the inherent inequality in income distribution. His principle was later tested and applied to many other productivity problems by management consultant Joseph M. Juran in his Quality Control Handbook.
Rich Kock, in his book The 80/20 Principle defines it the best when he writes:
"The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of results, outputs, or rewards."
In other words, to get the biggest bang for your buck in each area of your life, identify the 20% of the things you do that give you 80% of the results you want. Then base your daily priorities on that. Remember not all activities, while they might feel urgent, are equal in importance and impact.
Filter everything you are about to do through the 80/20 rule. Remember the vast majority of what you want to accomplish will come through a small minority of what you actually do.
Step 3. Do Less To Achieve More!
If you've taken the time to do step 1 and step 2 you will find it easier to make your daily success list shorter and shorter. I'm talking about 1 or 2 things for each area of your life.
I know this sounds crazy and unachievable but research backs this statement up.
In 1983 Lorne Whitehead wrote in the American Journal of Physics that he discovered a simple domino that falls could not only topple another domino, it was capable of toppling things 50% larger.
What does this have to do with doing less? Just like the domino effect, as you become more intentional about which activities you engage in on a daily basis you'll discover that your small efforts will have a bigger and bigger impact that will yield exponential results over time.
It's called The Compound Effect!
Let me encourage you and me both to take another look at our never ending to-do list and turn them into small success-lists that count.
Are you in?
Live well my friend.
PS: If step 1 seems daunting to you, and you are interested in a guided, one on one total life planning experience then check out the Calibrate 2 day experience!