Getting Things Done: Chunk Down, Prioritize and Get Started

What does your to do list look like? Reasonable Expectations

Many people carry around to do lists that contain broad goals and vision statements.  These items are not specifically actionable and lead to a to do list that feels more like a lead weight than a simple map for the day’s activities.

While tracking such goals are an essential element to success, they don’t really belong on a to do list.

We live in busy times and a productivity tool that isn’t helping you get things done is like a boat anchor tied around your neck.

So what should you to do list look like?

According to Getting Things Done author David Allen, an effective to do list should only contain items for which you can take action.  For example if you need to get the oil changed in your car but you first need to find the coupon you saved, “find oil change coupon” should be on your to do list.

This follows for anything you want to get done that represents a multi-step process.

Following this model I keep a simple spiral notebook to help me track my larger projects.  At the top of a clean page I write my goal.  On the next line I write the very next thing that could be done to take a step towards that goal.  Just knowing what that is takes a big load off my mind.

If I can think of more sequential items I’ll add those to the page is well.  The trick is to think in terms of the sequence you need to follow to reach the goal.  Sometimes it helps to imagine yourself already having achieved the goal and been thinking of the tasks in reverse order.

What ever works for you, just do it.

When I’m planning my next day, I will transfer some of those next step items to my to do list for the day.  This leaves me with that to do list which contains things that I can actually do.  Typically I will transfer no more than six things to my to do list.  Whatever doesn’t get done goes to the list for the next day.

This way I get to experience the brief endorphin rush associated with checking items off my to do list without the dread of carrying around a list with hundreds of items that I could never possibly complete in a single day.

Sound off.  What does your to do list look like? 

Is it just a big old mess? 

Do you try to keep everything in your head? 

Do you follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done model or have you found something else that works?

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