There was a time in my life that my “to-do” list easily fit into my memory bank. I was blessed with a talent for having a near-photographic memory. I could remember phone numbers, dates, details, and names even after the information became obsolete. To this day, I remember my childhood phone number, my elementary school teacher’s favorite color, and the VIN number of my first car. I took pride in remembering everything that I needed to know and could rattle the information off the top of my head without even having to think about it.
Those days are gone. What changed? Life!
I can still remember information just as easily as I did in my younger days, but life has a way of becoming complicated, overwhelming, and just plain stressful. When I realized that there was just TOO much critical information getting jumbled in my memory bank, I decided to take steps to sort it out. By doing so, I released a pressure valve in my brain that allowed me to stay focused, organized, and in control of my complicated life. It was hard to let go of the “old” way of doing things, but it was also an important step in my own maturation process. Something inside me clicked that said, “Enough is enough!” and I decided to create positive changes for myself and for those around me.
When I made the move to track my thoughts and commit them to paper, I was no longer facing looming deadlines with a feeling of dread behind them. Even more important, I no longer had a barrage of information to exhaust my thoughts on which task was most important to take care of. One of the biggest sources of relief I found is that I no longer risked having to apologize for missing an appointment or having people chase me down to extract the information that I held hostage in my brain.
Even before I started tackling the actual items on my list, I felt like I finally had control again. You can, too!
Where to start:
Start by sitting down with a pen and paper in a quiet and relaxed setting. Without thinking about which is most important, write down all the things you need to get done. Be warned: this list may end up becoming huge and intimidating, but you will find relief once all your thoughts are on paper. If any task is too big, break it down into smaller components. If they are still too big, break them down again.
I bet you are now looking at this massive list and wondering to yourself, “What in the world possessed me to write this? This is too much!” Trust me when I say that I said the very same thing the day I made my first dedicated list. Stay with me now! Your next step will actually help make it surprisingly manageable.
Now, run through each of these jobs by allocating priorities from A (very important, or very urgent) to F (unimportant, or not at all urgent). If too many tasks have a high priority, run through the list again and demote the less important ones. Once you have done this, rewrite the list in priority order. My first list had a large number of “A’s” beside it. Everything in my mind seemed urgent, but when I really stopped to think and evaluate the task, I realized I had permission to give it less importance and find the balance that I needed. That was incredibly liberating!
Once you complete your list, breathe deeply and congratulate yourself for taking an important step in managing your life. You will now have a precise plan that you can use to eliminate and narrow down the problems you face. You will also be able to tackle these in the correct order of importance or urgency. This allows you to separate important jobs from the many time-consuming trivial ones, and will allow you to know where you stand on a day-to-day basis. Imagine the feeling you will get when you cross off an item. I still find myself doing a silly dance to celebrate my success every time I cross off a major stressor from my list.
Prioritized to-do lists are fundamentally important to conduct your life efficiently and to take control of what matters most. If you use to-do lists, you will ensure that:
• You remember to carry out all necessary tasks and steps needed for each task.
• You tackle the most important jobs first, and do not waste time on trivial tasks.
• You do not get stressed by a large number of unimportant jobs.
I encourage you to make a list today, and make the list-writing process a daily habit. After you do them on a consistent basis, you may find you have taken control of your life using one list at a time -- without even realizing it.