If you are a person with a busy, complex life, you are likely using some type of to-do list. At the very least you have experimented at one time or another with one. However, sometimes getting done all you want to do can just feel all too difficult. You look over your list, and looking at some items, think, “Yuck, I don’t want to deal with that.” There could also be some items on your list you ignore consistently and don’t want to do anything about. So what’s the problem here? Is it that you are an individual who procrastinates or is lazy? It’s unlikely that’s the real problem. Most people are a little bit lazy. If one aspect of being lazy is the tendency to want to get things done efficiently with the least amount of effort, that’s really not such a bad thing. Ok, so what is the actual problem here?

Did you know that often the biggest problem is that your “to-do list” is not really a to-do list? Get your list and scan it over right now. Are you immediately aware of the next action step that you can begin right away? If this is not readily apparent to you, then you probably have a “to-do list” that isn’t really a to-do list. To-dos (action steps) – these are the items which you look at and understand clearly just what it is you need to do to accomplish them. Here are some examples: “Call Frank and discuss how to improve the accounting system.”, “brainstorm 10 ideas about how increase revenue. “, “compose an email to my top client to thank them for their business and loyalty”, “mow the lawn”. Projects – these are items that by necessity need multiple specific action steps to complete and these need to be listed as separate distinct tasks.

Sometimes you will know all the steps necessary to finish the project but other times you don’t. An example of a project would be, “hire a new assistant”. It’s a project since completing it involves multiple steps, such as “place a wanted ad in the paper”, “review resumes” and more. Other stuff – this is everything else on your list, things you have written down you might need to do something about, but you just don’t have a clear understanding what the action is you should take. It’s a really big problem if there are things on your list that aren’t actually “to-dos”. When you look at the list and you’re not sure what to do about some of the items, you will actually start to fear looking at it, because you’ll think it will be too hard sorting through all the issues. Or you might read through the list and just pick out the easy stuff to do, skipping over those items that you’re not quite sure about.

As this happens, the usefulness of the list will be reduced as you start avoiding items that are important. You do this mainly because you have not defined “first action steps” to take in order to accomplish the less simple tasks. Now, in theory, you could figure out the specifics of what to do about each item as you get to it. However this is a dangerous approach because likely you will then end up procrastinating about out what to do for each item and this will lead to more procrastination in taking the action itself. Therefore, you have to make sure that you only put items on your to-do list that you are crystal clear about what the action required is in order to complete them. 1. Do I know immediately exactly what I need to do next this with item, without having to think about it? 2. Do I know what the end result or outcome is that I want from this item? 3. Will this “to-do” take me less than eight hours (or a full day’s work) to accomplish it?

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