“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.
NO MORE THAN FOUR.
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.
NO MORE THAN FOUR.
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.