The first thing many people think of when they think of ‘productivity’ or ‘getting organized’ is lists.
We are taught to think of everything we need to do, and write it down on a list.
Even if you’re not a regular list keeper, writing everything down can feel amazing simply because you’re getting stuff out of your head onto paper (even if you don’t know exactly what to do with it once it’s on that paper).
If you’re a real list-ninja, you may have gotten in the habit of writing things down as soon as they come to mind, either on paper or on some kind of list app on your phone (this is a great habit). So when you find yourself at the store, you have the list of everything you might need handy.
The problem with the way we’ve been taught to write lists, is that we are taught to use them as a kind of dumping ground. Whatever is on our head gets scribbled down.
That means if we want to plan a birthday party for our kid, we write down everything we will need to do: book the location, send the invites, buy a cake, decorate. For larger projects, we can end up with very long lists, very quickly.
Often, we can’t actually do most of the items on our lists. You’re not going to send out invites until you’ve chosen a place and picked a time. You’re not going to pick a place until you’ve talked to your kid and found out if they even want a party. And, you’re certainly not going to decorate now, if the party isn’t for another month.
Having a list of all the things you can do, mixed with things you can’t do right now – even if you know you will most likely want to do them in the future – slows you down big time.
Your brain to do a certain amount of sorting every time you look at the list. You have to make a quick calculation of each item on it to determine whether it’s actionable or not. Nothing will numb you to your list faster than this. You won’t want to use that list anymore, because you’re still storing and sorting the information in your head.
Here’s what to do instead.
Next time you feel inclined to make a list – either of things to do for the day, or at the start of a big project you’re working on, ask yourself this: “What’s the very next action step I can take to move this forward?”
And only write down the answers to that question. If it’s not something you can do right now, don’t add it to your list. Feel free to make a note of it elsewhere, but not in the same place as your actions for the day.
You will quickly find your lists get much shorter, more deliberate, and less overwhelming.