“To do” list or “Wish” list? Planning is the key.

“To do” lists can be frustrating if not the stressful. They keep in mind those things you know you should be doing but don’t have time for. It would be less stressful to call them “Wish” lists. At least that way you wouldn’t feel guilty or suffer anxiety when they are postponed and you are not getting done those things you know should be done. Frustrated expectations cause anxiety and stress.

The “To do” list or “Wish” list should be accompanies by a plan to get specific things done each day. Plans are frequently disrupted; but good plans are disrupted less frequently. Good plans involve prioritizing. Select only those items that are both important and urgent and schedule time in your planner to get them done. It’s important to allow more time than you think they will take. Even then, these items should consume less than a day. If you have more items that are both important and urgent than you can do in a day, you are either exaggerating their importance or their urgency.

“Important” means they have such innate value that you would suffer a significant loss of some kind or another if they were never done. “Urgent” means you cannot delay them more than a day before that loss occurs.

If they are important only, you could allow as little as 15 minutes or half hour a day until they are done. If they are both important and urgent, and you cannot get them done in a day, you can minimize your losses by ignoring those of least importance. By ignoring, I mean deciding never to do them, removing them from your “Wish” list, and getting on with the things that you are actually able to do.

Most of the important items will still offer some benefit if done at any time – usually less benefit the longer they are delayed. That’s why the habit of scheduling a little time each day until they are completed is usually an effective practice.

The important thing is to work from a planner, not just a list. I still maintain that a paper planner is the most effective tool to use for this purpose. (Even though I was forced out of the paper planner part of my business this year by those who maintain they can do everything just as effectively using a smart phone.)

If you can do it all with a smart phone, more power to you. I offer the following suggestions to my fellow hard-core paper planner users as well as the more gifted smart phone planner users.

Don’t underestimate the time it will take for a task. Allow up to 50% more time than you think you will need. For example, if you think it will take an hour, block off an hour and a half. If you think it will take two hours, block off three hours; but break it into two timeslots of 90 minutes each. Working longer than 90 minutes without a break depletes energy and makes you more vulnerable to interruptions.

Don’t record items in your planner and then forget about them. Refer to your planner and its scheduled activities and “Wish” list throughout the day. Make it a habit to refer to your planner after every completed task or activity. You wouldn’t drive through a strange country without constantly checking the map – so don’t drive through life without constantly checking your plan.

Schedule items several days to a week in advance. Planning one day at a time is impossible since others will be asking for tomorrow’s time while you are working on today. With the rate at which priorities change, I would plan in detail only three or four days ahead. The farther into the future you plan, the fewer things you should enter into the planning section of your planning calendar. And only the really critical things are to be entered beyond a week ahead – in addition to those essential repetitive obligations, that is. The balance of any items remain on your “Wish” list, waiting to be scheduled, worked on during any spare time or abandoned.

I find I find that scheduling at least three days ahead prevents me from making unnecessary commitments for those days when asked to do so. It’s easier to say “no” when you already have something scheduled at the requested time.

It’s important to say no more often and reduce interruptions to a minimum as well; but that will be covered in a future blog article.

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