Your Life in Lists

Your Life in Lists

Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and author, disclosed on his blog that the secret to success is to “write it down.” He shares, “Ever since I was a child I have made lists of all kinds, including short-term tasks, long-term goals and resolutions. It’s how I make sense of the world, bring order to the ideas in my head, and start turning them into action.”

I believe him. I have lists and lists for everything. It’s how I was able to keep everything in order and stay on top of everything for many years. The real key to success isn’t just about writing it down but also how you organize and manage your lists. Here are some ideas:

Shopping Lists

Keep lists of everything you need to buy. I organize my lists by store so when I’m in that store, I pull up my list and don’t forget to buy anything. A great app for this is AnyList which allows you to share your shopping lists.

Work Lists

If you are an individual contributor working on many projects, organize your lists by project. Include everything from tasks, to open questions and items you need to follow up on. If you are a manager, organize your lists by employee. Again, include all open items. I used a notebook that I always kept with me so I could write things down as soon as they came up.

Task Lists

The key here is to only have one to-do list and make sure you always have it with you. Most people I talk to have lists in all different places, their work notebook, their phone, Post-It Notes and in their head. When it comes down to it, items get forgotten or fall through the cracks. Most people always have their phones with them so I use the task management app, priorigami: the art of productivity, to store all my to-dos in one place.

Entertainment Lists

I keep lists of books I want to read, shows I want to watch, movies I want to see, restaurants I want to try, places I want to visit and people I want to catch up with so whenever I have some free time, I quickly scan through my lists and find something to do. I keep these in the Notes section of my phone so I can quickly access them.

Done Lists

I am a strong believer in documenting completed tasks and accomplishments because it makes you feel good and motivates you to do more. I have kept a Done list in various forms for over 20 years.

If you want to learn more about how lists can help you become more productive, check out Paula Rizzo’s book, Listful Thinking. It’s an easy read. If you want to have some fun with lists, try Listography: Your Life in Lists which is a series of journals of lists.

TRY THIS OUT: What lists do you currently maintain? Which work for you and which ones don’t? What lists might be helpful for you to have? What’s the best format for your list and where should you keep it to make sure it’s readily available when needed.

The Three List Assessment

The Three List Assessment

The leaves are changing colors. Football is being played across the country. Signs of the upcoming holiday season are popping up everywhere and then you suddenly realize that there are only a few weeks left in the year. It’s the perfect time to assess progress against your personal resolutions and business performance goals.

What did you set out to do this year? How are you faring against those goals? Do you even remember them? At the end of the year, many employers ask you to assess your own performance as an input to year-end reviews which may impact bonuses or salary increases. Take the time NOW to see how you’ve done so far and what you can do over the next two months to make sure you hit all of your goals.

First, figure out where you stand against your goals. Then, use this easy exercise to make any needed adjustments: simply identify the top three things you should STOP, START or CONTINUE doing. Periodically I use this three list methodology to assess progress against an individual deliverable, team project or a personal goal.

STOP

Start here because this is the hardest but most critical piece. Think about which activities take up a lot of time but are not helping you achieve your goals. Consider time spent in meetings, writing reports, responding to emails or time spent with a particularly needy colleague. You will quickly realize many of these can be eliminated, delayed or delegated. Pick three of these that you can stop doing without impacting your goals.

START

With the time you have just freed up, what three things can you start doing that will help you achieve your goals. Did you resolve to exercise more, try skipping a meeting a week and get outside and walk during that time. Instead of responding to every email, is there some research or other deep work that you can focus on doing instead? Come up with three solid tasks that will get you closer to achieving your goals and prioritize them over everything else for the next two months.

CONTINUE

What have you been doing that has been successful in helping you achieve your goals. Make sure you identify three productive activities and keep doing them. Being aware of these will help you to continue to make time and prioritize these activities. You may even think of ways to increase or improve these tasks.

TRY THIS OUT: How have you done achieving your resolutions or goals?  If you’ve been keeping a Done list, this will be easy to assess. Once you understand the gap and know what is left to do, schedule an hour this week to create your STOP, START and CONTINUE LISTS. Once you have created these lists, make sure you adjust your calendar to eliminate the things you are going to STOP and schedule in the ones you are going to START.

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

We all struggle with prioritizing the big and important things in life and making time and finding the focus to tackle them. For several years, when I was working in the corporate world, I printed this out and hung it up in my office.

img_3073

It often caught people’s attention and got us started on substantive conversations about their work, identifying priorities, choosing how to manage time and about focusing on the big rocks versus the little rocks.

When faced with a big long list of tasks, most of us naturally gravitate to the quick and easy ones first. And, why not? Finishing off a few things quickly makes you feel good and accomplished in the short term, but is this the right approach for the long term?

You might recall Steven Covey’s story about life’s bucket and if you fill it first with sand, then gravel, you will run out of space for the bigger rocks. However, if you start with the big rocks first, followed by the gravel and finally the sand, there will be plenty of room for it all since the smaller items will fill in the gaps in between the bigger ones.

Seems to make sense in the physical world but how do we apply this to our real life tasks? How do we make sure we are putting the big rocks first when it’s so easy to get side-tracked by the gravel and sand? Nowadays it’s more difficult than ever with so many constant dings, pings, notifications and alerts all constantly clamoring for our attention.

Simply start by prioritizing your daily top three tasks, or BIG ROCKS, for each day. You don’t have to prioritize the little things; they will just naturally fall into place. You don’t need to put eat lunch or check email or go to the bathroom on your list of priorities because you will naturally make the time to take care of those things. It’s the big, important and hard things you need to identify and then find dedicated time to focus on getting done.

TRY THIS OUT: First, evaluate what you are spending your time on? What are the big rocks that you need to tackle? How much time are you currently dedicating to the big rocks versus the little rocks? How can you adjust your schedule or your priorities to make time for the big rocks?

Smarter Uses of Your Smartphone

Smarter Uses of Your Smartphone

We all carry around our smart phones as if they were a part of our body and check them an average of 85 times a day. Not only do they serve as phones, they have replaced calendars, cameras, alarm clocks and radios. For some they have even taken the place of our computers. Here are some additional features of your smart phone that you may not be taking advantage of that can help you increase your productivity.

DON’T ANSWER TO A NUMBER

This one is very basic but hard to do. With contacts, you can see who is calling you. If you don’t recognize the phone number of the person calling you, DO NOT answer it. Let them leave a message and then you can determine if and how to respond. Nine times out of ten, they won’t even leave a message. Also, if someone you know calls but you’re in the middle of something, stay focused and give them a call back later.

KEEP TRACK OF TASKS

You always have your phone with you so it’s the best place to keep track of your tasks. Whenever something pops into your mind to get done, enter it into an app on your phone and then you don’t have to remember to remember to do it later. Free your mind and use your phone store your tasks. Plus, when you have time, all of your tasks will be in one single place making it much easier to prioritize.

USE YOUR TIMER

Being productive requires focus which is becoming more and more challenging given the large number of distractions competing for our attention. Try using the timer on your phone to set aside 20-30 minute blocks of time for focused, uninterrupted deep work. You will be amazed at how much you can get done in that amount of time as well as how quickly time flies by. When the timer goes off, reward yourself with a quick 5-10 minute break and then repeat.

SET REMINDERS

If you have to do something at a particular time or by a specific time, set a reminder. Reminders will alert you with a buzz and a quick message so you don’t forget something critically important. In this case, this type of alert or notification can actually save you.

TRY THIS OUT: Think about how you currently use your phone. It is just for phone calls, emails and text messages? What other features can you utilize to help you stay focused and become more productive. Pick one of the suggestions from above and try it out for a week to see how it feels and if it is helpful or not.

The Daily Top Three

The Daily Top Three

So, you have a to-do list and things get added to your list but it feels like nothing ever comes off the list. Sound familiar? While most people know how to create and update their lists, they don’t really know how to manage it. How do you prioritize items? When should you delete a task? How do you decide which task to focus on first?

Most productivity gurus promote the concept of selecting a few tasks to focus on at a time instead of trying to do everything all at once. Leo Babauta, author Essential Zen Habits, popularized the term Most Important Thing (MIT) to promote the idea of identifying your top one to three tasks each day. In a recent Pinkcast, Daniel Pink asserts that using the MIT process is a simple trick to getting the right stuff done.

Here’s how it works for me. It’s a little like playing the lottery. Each day you simply pick your top three priorities for the day and focus your time and efforts on making sure they get done. You win when you complete all three of them before the end of the day. Sounds easy and fun, right?

While there are many task management tools and apps available to track tasks, none help you actually manage your list and get stuff done. A new task management app called priorigami: the art of productivity has this concept baked into the app.

Each day the app sends you a reminder to select your Daily Top Three. You can choose to get the reminder at any time you choose such as the night before or at the beginning of your day. Click on the reminder to review your list of tasks and then drag and drop your priority tasks into the Daily Top Three section. The app tracks your progress and sends you a progress update towards the end of the day giving you just enough time and a little nudge to finish up any remaining tasks.

IMG_2837

Sometimes things come up and priorities change during the day so you can always go into the app and shuffle your tasks and reset your Daily Top Three tasks for the day. In fact, this is a good habit to adopt even without any unexpected disruptions. The app will send you a reminder to review and shuffle your tasks during the day as well.

TRY THIS OUT: Download priorigami for FREE from the iTunes App Store. Try it out for a week and commit to selecting your Daily Top Three each day. What were the results? Did you feel more focused on your priorities? Did you get more done? Do you feel better knowing you are working on the most important things?

Less is More

Less is More

Often when considering productivity, we think about how much we have to do and how to get it all done. The volume of how much we have to do seems overwhelming. So, what if we limited the number of tasks on our to-do list? Sounds a little backwards but one easy and smart way to become more productive is to reduce the number of things we are trying to do.

IMG_2795

In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg Mckeown explains “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.” He continues, “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

This concept is not just limited to tasks. Think about how many things you have as well. We all have way too much stuff. I was fascinated by the story of Rob Greenfield, a 29 year old entrepreneur, environmental activist and minimalist who has limited his possessions to just 111 items that fit in his backpack. He shares, “Through my years of downsizing, I’ve found that material possessions don’t create long term happiness or fulfillment for me. I’ve found that an overabundance of possessions hinders my purpose and passion rather than facilitates it.”

Recent research and experiments have proven that working fewer hours results in increased productivity as well. In fact, in 2000 the French government mandated a 35-hour work week and has also since eliminated checking email after hours. Several companies in Sweden have experimented with a 6-hour work day and found that they were doing just as much if not more than they accomplished in 8 hours just by working more efficiently.

So, which of your tasks are hindering your purpose and which ones are helping you reach your goals. Think critically and deliberately about focusing on the Most Important Things from your long list of tasks and you’ll begin to see your productivity increase. The old adage, “Less is More” supposes that by doing fewer things, you are directing more time, energy and attention to the things that really matter thus resulting in a better end product.

TRY THIS OUT: You, too, can become an essentialist: simply ask yourself, “Is this the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” Challenge yourself to focus on the few versus the many by eliminating distractions and time wasters.

The Importance of Why

The Importance of Why

In the newly released and highly acclaimed productivity book “Smarter, Better, Faster,” Charles Duhigg opens with a chapter about motivation. He asserts that those who have control and understand the big picture are more motivated. He writes, “If you can link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier.” He adds, “Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”

So many of us spend a lot of time and energy making lists, tracking tasks and keeping up with all of the things that we need to get done. But, how many of us are asking, “Why?” Why should I do this task? Why is this task important? Why should I spend any time on this task? Why is this beneficial?

Early in my career, someone shared a great story that stuck with me and have since shared with many of my team members and colleagues over the years. A man is walking by a construction site and comes across three workers doing the same job. He stops and asks the first one, “What are you doing?” The man quickly replied, “I am laying bricks.” He then asked the second guy the same question but he responded, “I am building a wall.” The man then turned to the third guy and when he asked him the same question, the guy stood up, paused and smiled and looked to the sky and then shared, “I am constructing a cathedral.”

While each of them were doing the same task, they thought of their work completely differently. There’s a big difference in terms of thinking that you’re just laying bricks versus constructing a cathedral. Through their descriptions of their work, you can tell which of the three workers would be most motivated, driven and productive.

So, next time you’re about to start a new task begin by asking yourself, “Why?” If you can’t come up with a strong answer, it’s fine to just remove that task from your list and move on to the things that have greater meaning and significance. You will find that’s motivation enough.

TRY THIS OUT: Think about the things that you rush to complete and love to do. What motivates you to do them? What drives you to get them done? Then, think about some of the things that linger on your list. Why don’t they get done? Think about how you can attach a greater meaning or calling to those tasks to increase your motivation to tackle and complete them.