The Power of Lists: Productivity’s Secret Weapon

When my father-in-law first left us in Home Renovation Wilderness, he was worried.

may 2002 - electrical 002 Reno Weekend May 10&11 2002 056

But he had to let us fall out of the nest on our own, so he distilled all his worry and advice to this:

Every day, make a to-do list.

Start it fresh, every single day. On a clean sheet of paper. And just work your way through it.

It worked.

We went through a lot of scraps of paper.

But we came out the other side – health, relationship and renovation project in tact.

It’s a simple survival tactic that has subsequently gotten me through several major Events Marketing and PR gigs, three more house builds, life as a freelancer, and a bout of stress-induced insomnia.

(The only cure for the 3am Monkey Mind is to get up, write that shit down on a piece of paper, and go back to bed. It’s amazing how pathetic those to-dos seem in the light of dawn.)

The Idea Fairy Strikes

Recently, I read a great piece in brainpickings, on how to further refine the list.

A psychologist was invited to give a talk at the Pentagon on managing time and resources. He decided to warm up the generals with a short writing exercise – to write a 25 word summary of their strategic approach.

The exercise stumped most of them. None of the distinguished men in uniform could come up with anything.

The only general who managed a response was the lone woman in the room. She had already had a distinguished career, having worked her way up through the ranks and been wounded in combat in Iraq. Her summary of her approach was as follows: ‘First I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three down.’”

The bottom line: get it down to 3 things.

Behance Action Method Screen shot 2013-02-17 at 9.19.32 AM

Behance’s Action Method notebooks are a fancy way of facilitating that, you could become a disciple of David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, or you could try a free app like WunderList, but ultimately, a post-it note, or the back of the envelope will do.

Just realise that a 50-item list, no matter how helpful or authoritative it purports to be, is about, oh, 47 entries too long to be useful. Unless, of course, you are trying to build an entire culture from the ground up. If you’re just trying to get through the day, keep it to 3.

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