Wednesday, February 17, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Too Much on Your To-Do List?



“Checking items off a to-do list doesn't determine progress; focusing on your priorities is what counts.” Frank Sonnenberg


Sometimes simpler is better. Here’s a case in point:

I have a friend who you would think has a to-do list a mile long. Her life could be very complicated, if she allowed it to be.

She’s a wife; the mother of three young children; a loving daughter who looks out for her older parents; a full-time high school special-ed teacher with responsibilities for many extra-curricular activities at her school; a part-time instructor for an online university program; the leader of her church’s youth program for teenage girls; a thoughtful and attentive neighbor; and an active community volunteer. If anyone would have a million things to get done every day, it would be her.

But her attitude regarding to-do lists is wise, effective, and refreshing. And seemingly counterintuitive.

Her to-do-list mantra is simple and blunt:  NO MORE THAN FOUR.

She believes a too-long list is counterproductive. In her view, when you have dozens of things on your list, the natural tendency is to work on the easiest things first, because it feels good to scratch them off. Unfortunately, however, the easiest things are usually not the most important things. If your focus is on “scratching items off your list,” you end up giving your attention to the “stuff” and leaving unattended the things that matter most.


But when you limit your list to only four things, she says, you force yourself to identify what are truly your highest priorities, the critical to-dos that absolutely MUST get done. Those four things make your list. Very often, those things are about relationships and not about tasks. Then, as you go through your day, every time you glance at your list, the TOP FOUR are in your face. As a result, they’re the things you do. 


After you complete those four high-priority items, you are then free to tackle other matters, if you wish to. You may have time and energy for other things, or you may not. But even if you don’t accomplish anything else the rest of the day, you’ve conquered YOUR TOP FOUR. The rest is gravy.


Then you repeat this process each day. I can guarantee you that, if each day you get your four most important matters done, in almost no time you can change your life. Think of it: by the end of a week, 28 high-priority objectives are complete! That’s a boatload of accomplishment. Some things will come back up again, but so what? Just put them back on the list again; you already know how to handle them.


I like her system a lot. The best thing about it is its simplicity. You don’t spend tons of time and energy creating the ideal list and then end up being captive to it.  Over the years, I’ve been guilty of spending more effort designing the perfect tool for getting things done than actually doing what’s on the list. It’s kind of like the tail wagging the dog.

Often, simpler is better. Here’s all it takes: Grab a 3x5 card, a notes page on your phone, or any slip of paper, and write on it what you most want to accomplish today. No more than four. From time to time, review your list during the day. Then go get ‘em done. 

It happens, almost magically.

Repeat tomorrow.

Then the next day.

It’s that simple.