We all have this crazy love-hate relationship with our To-Do list, right? (Ok, for many it might be straight-up hate or profound avoidance.) I get it because I talk to clients about it every day.
But there’s one major problem with how most of us approach our to-do list: We become obsessed with getting it ALL done ASAP! We start creating “Dream Lists” of 15-20 things that we are determined to complete today. Then, we only knock out 4-6 of them because other things get in the way, and we feel frustrated and depressed. Does this sound familiar?
If so, then I’m going to tell you the one secret that can immediately shift that destructive and disempowering pattern in your life. Even better, it’s something for you to STOP doing…Stop confusing your “Master List” for your “Today List.”
1. What is your “Master List”?
We all have dozens, if not hundreds, of things on our plates. Writing them down allows you to reflect and prioritize your actions. Capturing those tasks in one consistent place (a notebook, software app, etc), establishes the beginning of your “Master List.”
Your “Master List” is the one place where all your actions live. It’s where all those possible actions hang out until you’re ready for them. But, it’s not what you work from during each day. Trying to work from your “Master List” will feel crazy overwhelming because it will, and should be, never-ending.
In the best of all possible worlds you will still have a to-do list on the day you die. Having the list is a sign that you’ve stayed engaged in your life all the way to the end. In other words, having a list is a GOOD thing.
“The only thing more important than your to-do list is your to-be list. The only thing more important than your to-be list is to be.” – Alan Cohen
The types of tasks on the list may evolve over time, but having a “Master List” is every bit as important as having a calendar to remind you of when to show up for the dentist or that lunch date with your friend.
2. What is your “Today List”?
If your “Master List” is where all your actions live until you choose to complete them, then your “Today List” is the SHORT selection of the items that are your priority for today. This list should have no more than four items on it.
Just four tasks? (And I do mean tasks, not projects. Actions that you can complete in 5-30 minutes.) This might sound like horrifying levels of under-achievement. But, things are going to come up. That call from your client, that urgent email response, the last minute errand for your kid’s homework. New tasks show up in our lives constantly each day.
When we choose our four priority tasks intentionally each day, then we can both keep ourselves focused and leave space for the urgent things to arise without knocking us off course or making us feel overwhelmed.
What I teach my clients is that your four daily tasks include: your “Inspired Action” and 3 bonuses. Your “Inspired Action” is a commitment that you’re making to yourself. This one item, come hell or high water, will get done before the end of the day. Once that’s accomplished, then the other three items are your next top priorities.
If you get through all four tasks on any given day, then celebrate! Seriously… 3 minute dance party, at least. When you’re done celebrating, then you can decide if you want to go back to your “Master List” and choose another task to power through. Or, you can leave space for inspiration, flow, or other activities as they arise. You’ll likely choose what works based on your energy and schedule for the day.
“Make each day your masterpiece” – John Wooden
When you stop confusing your “Master List” for your “Today List”, then you increase your ability to focus and decrease your persistent sense of overwhelm. It’s one of the simplest, and fastest tricks to immediately improve your effectiveness each day.