If your results and productivity are often not as high as you hoped, there’s one key question to ask yourself.
When you create a to-do list for yourself, is it an actual, or an aspirational to-do list?
In other words, how realistically do you plan, for you?
If you constantly find your to-do list discouraging, with work left incomplete or lingering for days on the list, take a good look at how you’re planning.
Some people are pretty clear about what they can, and will get done in any given day, week or month.
Others are driven by wishful thinking. They hope to make big things happen, and big dreams come true. Many don’t get much past creating an elaborate dream of success, and hoping that it will come true.
If you want to make a vision or dream real, you have to convert it into actions and behaviors that drive results.
That means a dream and good intentions have to become actions such as:
- Capturing lessons learned
So how do you do with writing a good to-do list?
Is your planning usually accurate, based on knowledge of what you can and will do in a given time period?
Or do you end up carrying items on your to-do list for days, weeks, months or years? And if that’s true, what might be going on?
1. You’re not ready.
Maybe the truth is that you need to go back one step, and do that task before you do this one. For example, do you need to do research and write a first draft before you write a final paper or blog post?
2. It’s not really your goal.
Maybe the goal you carry, and the tasks you add to your to-do list are based on someone else’s plan for you. Check to see if that might be true. If so, figure out what your own goal really is, and what tasks will lead you to it.
3. You’re not building in adequate transition and preparation time between tasks.
Maybe the reason you’re not getting the job done is that you’re not allowing enough transition time between tasks, and so your time estimates are way off for each task. Build that transition time to refresh and reset into your to-do list or planning.
4. The goal isn’t big enough, and compelling enough yet.
Perhaps the goal you’ve set just isn’t big enough, or inspiring enough to spur you into action. The status quo is more attractive, and so you work on maintaining that.
5. You haven’t broken the goal down into small enough tasks.
Maybe the tasks you set out for yourself are too big, and you’re choking on them. Keep breaking them down into one-day, one-hour, or even 20-minute tasks until they’re right-sized, and you almost can’t help but take action on them.
6. You’ve never improved your planning process.
Do a quick, periodic audit of your planning process. Here’s one way:
- When you write your to-do list, estimate how long you think each task will take.
- When the task is done, see if your time estimates were accurate.
- Make note of anything that affected your ability to complete the work in the time you estimated it would take, or any tasks you left off.
- Pay attention, too, to the tasks you didn’t really need to do in order to meet your goal.
- Look at the trends.
- Use the information to simplify your planning process so that it leads you to make better decisions about how you’ll use your resources, taking actions that lead more directly to the results you seek.
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