What’s on Your Plate?
The Dreaded To Do List!
This is Part 1 of a 2-part post, with the details of the planning process in Part 2, “Herd, Weed, Block, Shoot.”
I got a fun comment mid-week on my Instagram teaser photo for this post. It was a picture of my day’s To Do List, half way through the day. Most tasks had been scheduled, some things were completed, some outstanding. The comment included, “…this makes me want to keep working and grind harder! 👍”
I had to smile, because no matter now long my To Do List gets, I never want to think of it as a grind! And that’s what this post is about, repurposing the To Do List into a life-affirming guidepost, instead of a one way chute into The Grind.
I’ve always kept To Do lists, in various formats. In last week’s post about journals I mentioned using the Franklin Planner, but after I migrated away from dated forms, I started keeping all my To Do lists in cheap, plain notebooks. I’ve been getting these 5″ x 7″ narrow ruled books mostly at Target or CVS for between $1.99 and $2.50 – a lot cheaper than any planner book and a lot more flexible. I use them to basically hold just 2 items: Daily To Do lists, and Phone Calls (notes I make when I make or receive a call about a job or something else important.)
Over the years I’ve used various computer programs and apps as I’ve progressed through systems and smart phones. I currently keep an electronic master list of everything in the back of my mind (I call this The Bullpen), synced between my computer, my iPhone, my iPad, and in the cloud. I use it for prioritizing, project planning, and strategizing. But when it comes down to an individual day, I still find a handwritten list the best tool to work off to focus on what’s on tap.
The Important Question: What’s ON the To Do List?
I don’t know about you, but sometimes a few weeks go by, and I find I haven’t really made progress on something that was important to me. Usually, this something was creative work, which, if you’re not careful, can feel like lagniappe: nice and wonderful to get, but extra. Well, can you guess my problem? It wasn’t on my To Do list.
But I knew I wanted to work on my story, that was a given, so why put it on the list? It was always on my horizon, right? It wasn’t coming and going like the things that DID get on the list like, “Fire payroll company,” or “Buy an uninterrupted power supply.” Writing was an ongoing concern that I could never forget, so I didn’t need a reminder on the list. Or did I?
Pay Yourself First
You know how they say that to save money you should “Pay yourself first?” Well, it turns out this is true of your time and your soul and your energy, as well.
Whether we end up accomplishing it or not, when we physically put a task on our To Do List, it means we intend to get it done. We’re setting an internal intention. Throughout the day, we come back to The List and focus on the items that are on it. We look at The List, we go do something, we come back, we check it off. Ooh, that feels good.
But you know what feels even better? Checking off things that are meaningful and important. And the truth is, you can only fit so many things into a day. What’s crucial to remember that today isn’t just any day, it’s a building block to the trajectory that makes up your entire life.
And when the day (and the week, the month, the year, and, let’s face it, the lifetime) is over, you want to have done what’s really in your heart.
I came to the realization that my To Do Lists were largely a bunch of meaningless busywork that didn’t really amount to how I wanted to be spending my life. More importantly, all the time that went into doing the items on those lists didn’t amount to how I wanted to be spending my life.
So I’m the kind of person who does geeky things like track all my time. I used to use an app called Paymo, and at the end of last year I switched to ATracker, which I like even better. As I’ve been trying to ramp up my productivity and, specifically, my writing output, I took a look at how much time got spent doing what, and I was pretty dismayed to discover that after the initial crush months of productivity completing the first full draft of my novel, the days and hours I was currently devoting to its revision were WAY smaller than I would have liked. No wonder it was progressing at the rate of crystallized maple syrup. Sure, I thought about it and fretted a lot, but as much time as that took up, it wasn’t happening with me at the desk, butt in chair, pen in hand.
So I decided to start putting my rewrite on the To Do List. At the top. Every day.
At first, I thought it was silly, because what’s the point? It’s the same thing every time, like “brush teeth.” I don’t put “brush teeth” on my To Do List every day, but it still gets done.
But what happened was that every time I looked, there was the book at the top of the list. When I did my scheduling process (coming up in part 2 of this post), I had to block the time for it, and I scheduled it when my mind would be fresh and ready to work. Once the time was blocked, when the moment came, I opened up the binder and started work.
What putting this neglected work on the To Do List does for me is to make it a daily habit like brushing teeth by putting it in the forefront of my consciousness, all day, every day. Each time I return to the To Do List, it looks like rewriting my book is the most important thing, and it is.
Every task that means something to you in your deepest heart, whether it be creating a body of sculptural works, building a tree house for your child, or keeping a journal, has to go on that list, over and over again until it’s part of your daily habit or done*. When you put your Soul Work first, the remaining tasks fall into perspective and lose the aspect of The Grind.
* Note: once your list is Right with a capital R, you’ve got to move from list making to action. See my technique for this in Part 2 of this post, “Herd, Weed, Block, Shoot”
In the mean time, here is some…
Some affiliate links for notebooks like the ones I use for my To Do Lists, and some like the Bullet Journalers:
Ultra-cheap 5″x7″ notebooks – even cheaper than at Target or CVS, and with free shipping. Sadly, most ruled 5×7 notebooks have cheap paper that bleeds through. As you can see by my photographs, I just use the pens I like anyway and ignore the bleed-through, because this is the size that works for me.
Less cheap but CHIHUAHUA THEMED 5″ x 7″ notebooks – because, hey, Chihuahuas
Inexpensive dot grid notebook – I prefer spiral bound, but this one is close to the right size and holds up better than the spiral notebooks to fountain pen ink.
Expensive dot grid notebook – this is what many of the bullet journalists are using. It’s too big for me for To Do Lists, it doesn’t fold back on itself like a spiral, and I kinda don’t want to give this much “weight” to my To Do Lists, but it sure is a lovely notebook!!! and it would be awesome for a normal journal.
See you in Part 2.
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