I think my fascination with lists started as a teenager when my parents would leave me home alone for a few hours and would write a list of (super easy) chores to complete before they returned. Once I had conquered the list, I was free to talk on the phone, watch TV, raid the refrigerator. As long as each item was done, no questions asked. My love affair with lists continues to this day. Lists complete me.
Here is my Top 10 list of tips for getting things done:
- Make a list of the task at hand and the sub-tasks that go with it. This will help you find manageable chunks of smaller tasks and will also highlight where you may have dependencies on other people. Get busy asking those people for what you need ASAP. Give them plenty of notice and ask nicely. Your emergency isn’t their emergency. Yada yada yada.
- Put yourself in jail. “I can’t leave this office until I create that pivot table.” “I can’t lay down on this bed until I fold the clean laundry.” “I can’t have a glass of wine until I hit my 10,000 steps on my Fitibit.”
- Do a mind map. Sometimes trying to write an orderly list is a barrier to getting started. You may need a less structured way to brain dump and find a path forward. If you haven’t done a mind map before, check this out. A great tool!
- Set a timer. Shut out all distractions and set a timer for 10 minutes. You are only allowed to work on the 1 project for that 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, decide whether or not to do another 10 minutes. You’d be surprised what you can get done in a short sprint. I’ve written this list (so far) in about 10 minutes!
- Get down and give me 20. Write down 20 things that will help you achieve your goal. Don’t give it too much thought just keep writing until you have 20 ideas. Getting to 20 is often a struggle. You will have to think outside the box to complete the list. Warning! Be on the lookout for breakthrough ideas.
- Imagine if. Tell yourself a story of how the world will look when this project/task is done to perfection. When I don’t know where to start or don’t have all the details I just close my eyes and imagine that future place when this seemingly impossible project or problem is finished and I’m accepting an award for my outstanding achievement. Who is there? What are they doing? What has changed? What am I wearing? Writing myself a few paragraphs on what that imaginary place looks, tastes and smells like is both motivating and productive. Once I’ve glimpsed a better place, I have to get there!
- Do the most unpleasant task first. It may be that this 1 painful thing is prohibiting you from getting started, so just get that 1 thing out of the way.
- Reward yourself. Sometimes hard work is its own reward and sometimes you need a fro-yo or a mani/pedi. Right-size your reward with the task and make them both happen.
- Outsource it. Is this really yours to do? Can you trust someone else to do it? Can you hire a service to do it? Many people (guilty!) bury themselves in tasks because they can’t give up control. Maybe your husband can be trusted with your fine washables. Maybe someone else on the team would be willing to arrange that meeting. Maybe your son is old enough to write out his own birthday invitations. Maybe you can bring lunch for a month and hire a professional painter versus spending two weekends on a DIY project.
- Don’t do it. Will this matter in a year? What will happen if this doesn’t get done? Could this possible be a nice-to-have? Will this jeopardize another priority? Sometimes we are reluctant to start a task because we don’t see the value in doing it. Not doing it is always an option. Like the song says “Let it go.”