What to do with to do lists.

Hello, I’m Rachel and I’m a Virgo. Now I know we Virgos are known to be perfectionists and hyper-efficient. My mother in law is your typical virgo. She runs like clockwork and never messes anything up. The only reason I remember to send her a birthday card on her birthday is because it falls the day after mine. You see I might be a Virgo but I’m an imperfect perfectionist and I’m chaotically organised.

But what I lack in organisation I make up for in the ability to wing it. Big style. Here’s the thing…I think people have me down as master of organisation. When I recently missed a session with my PT, she initially doubted herself as being in the wrong place. She was in the gym she owns at the time. The reason for her doubt? It was me who hadn’t turned up and I’m super organised, right? Oh, how very wrong.

But I really do try to be organised and one way I try is to write lists. Lots of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessive. I don’t make lists of outfits to wear on holiday or what’s in my kitchen cupboard and believe me I know people who do. But when it comes to work I do make lists. Oh what the hell, when it comes to the kids I make lists. When it comes to the house I make lists. When it comes to the shopping I make lists. God, perhaps I am a tad obsessive after all!

So, who else works to lists? How long is your list? Is it manageable? How many tasks do you get through each day? In trying to answer these questions I came to the conclusion that my approach to lists wasn’t working. My To Do List actually gets longer as I add on more tasks than I strike off. Please tell me you get this too?

So I set myself the task of working out what to do with To Do Lists?

It’s hard when you work for yourself. You’ve not got a boss giving you a list of tasks to complete and more to the point you’ve not always got deadlines to work to. ‘Database’ and ‘Newsletter’ have been on my To Do List since about 2011 I think. So I figured it was time to make some changes. For me September is a month of new beginnings. The kids are back at school, the holidays are over so it’s a time to get focus and clarity.

So, one week into September, here’s where I’m at with To Do Lists.

Quality v Quantity.

If I get through loads on my To Do List it means I’m amazing right? My self-worth goes through the roof and I feel great! Now that’s not a bad thing. After all working for yourself can often be a thankless task.

But what if you’re working through loads of low impact stuff and putting off the bigger tasks? The words ‘Database’ and ‘Newsletter’ are springing to mind here.

So my tip would be to not put off the more impactful tasks that will take a lot longer. Yes, you might only tick one thing off your list that day but what a great feeling to have completed Accounts or Write Blog Post.

To Do Lists might seem therapeutic but they can be quite the opposite.

I write lists to feel in control. But sometime I feel as though I’m setting myself up for failure. I mean how the hell am I supposed to get through 30 tasks on Wonderlist in 6 hours? Some days just thinking about my lists can stress me out.

Let me introduce you to the Jedi Of All Lists…

I have discovered the Jedi Of All Lists: My Master List. It’s a brain spew of things. It’s where I dump anything and everything. It’s a mess of notes, arrows, scribbles and it’s on my desk at all times. A week last Sunday I sat down with a blank piece of A3 paper. I had 4 or 5 Sharpie Pens of different colours and I set forth to dump. All my tasks, from paying for the kids drama lessons and getting passport photos for the new footie season right down to filing a VAT return and setting up a portrait shoot. Purple is Work, orange is House, pink is Kids and blue is Personal.

Once I’d released the To Do List Noise from my brain (and released a huge sign of relief) I tackled my weekly list and from that I whittled it down to my HIT list. (Not that kind of HIT list although some weeks perhaps I should have one of those too). I’ve found that this way I can get my To Do List down to just a few key tasks for the day. If the tasks on my HIT list start creeping up into double digits I strike some off and make sure they’re on the Master List for another day.

Keep it simple.

My HIT list is high impact things to do. No more than 3-6 things on any given day. It’s about focus and priority. So, have a think about this…if you could do just one thing today to move your business forward what would it be? I know what mine would be. To write my next 4 blog posts, one for each week of the month. Whatever it is, this is the item to put on your To Do List for today.

Sometimes small is big.

Okay, so keep that small, focused To Do List in your mind. And then picture the scene….Today’s the day you plan to write The Dreaded Blog Post. The kids have run out the door to school and you’ve abandoned destruction in the kitchen to move to your desk. But the breakfast dishes need clearing away and there’s a load of washing that could do with going on the line. If this was me I know I would think about these two small tasks and wouldn’t be able to settle until they’d been sorted. Or maybe my desk is a bit of a mess, I didn’t get to clear it at the end of the previous day. It’s covered in receipts from a day of accounts and I want to write some blog posts. Argh, I’m stressed just thinking about this!

Basically, the tasks I’m avoiding (laundry and clearing away) take less energy to do than the energy I’m spending on the avoidance of them. So in this case JUST DO THEM and MOVE ON. I know it’s about the big things but free up a lot of energy and get your focus back by just spending 15 minutes clearing the decks before kicking off a new work day.

It’s these small little thing that can become massive blocks to your productivity. Steam straight in and bash them down. You’ll be glad you did.

Prepare the night before.

So my desk is littered with accounts stuff on a day when I need to be creative. Clearly my day hasn’t started well. So what am I going to do about it? I’m now writing my HIT list the night before and clearing my desk to boot. Bingo, focus and clarity are right there the next day. Result!

But remember, it’s Mrs Chaotically Organised here. For half the week (the latter half usually) my desk looks like a battleground at 7am. I get to it, clear it first thing, re-write my list with the aid of a coffee and then walk away. I sort the troops, take a shower and then come back to my workspace fighting fit.

Take a mini vaca half way through your week.

Okay, so I’ve got at least one high impact item on my to do list each day. How the hell am I going to write 4 blog posts when my email keeps pinging and my phone keeps bleeping with Instagram updates? It’s time to tune out and turn on. Last Wednesday I had a mini-vacation. No I didn’t helicopter it over to Monaco. I wish. I switched on my Vacation Responder for the day. In doing so I became proactive rather than reactive.

Clients emailing me didn’t think I was ignoring them as I set my email to reply saying I was out most of the day and would be checking emails later that afternoon. If enquiries were urgent I asked for them to call or text me. They didn’t. I had 4 hours of uninterrupted accounts. I like to say it was on a par with a day trip to Monaco. It wasn’t. But boy did it feel good putting a big fat strike through Accounts on my To Do List that day.

So set yourself some boundaries and make your biggest goals a priority – even if this happens just once per week.

Do it in public.

I’m not sure if Virgos can add ‘exhibitionist’ to their list of traits but on this point I think we should all be a little ‘out there’. What I mean is we should be making some of our goals public. Tell someone what you plan to do and when you plan to do it by. I think sharing your To Do List is a fab idea. Unfortunately my kids aren’t the slightest bit interested in my blog activity or if I’ve reconciled the bank account. But my network of wonderful business friends are. They know what it means to get through 6 weeks of accounts and still be alive at the end of it (albeit only just). They know how it feels when you’ve finally written the newsletter or the giddy joy at having all your contacts in a CRM database. So tell them. Be accountable to them and let them be accountable to you.

So here goes…I’m putting it out there. By the end of the month I will have my database sorted, my first newsletter written and those bloody blog posts written. If it kills me. What about you? Let me know what’s hitting your HIT list this month. But put it out there with caution. I’ll be on at you if you’ve not done what you’ve promised. If I’m organised enough to remember that is.

Have a great September and if I’m organised enough I’ll be posting again in October!


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