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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What To Do With Your To-Do List

Posted by: CS Chamber on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 12:06:17 pm Comments (0)

Last week, in A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List, I wrote about the importance of using your calendar — not your to-do list — as your main tool to guide what you do in a day.

Transferring items from your to-do list to your calendar will help you make strategic choices about where you spend your time, but it will also leave you with the probability of a long list of items that didn't fit into your calendar for the day. And that list will simply grow longer and more stressful day by day, a continued reminder of what you aren't accomplishing. I call it my guilt list.

What do you do with those things?

I have a rule to handle those items: my three-day rule. It ensures that no item on my list ever stays on it, haunting me, for more than three days.

Here's what I do: after I've filled my calendar for the day, I review what's left on the list. I leave new items, those I just added that day or in the previous two days, on the list to see if they make it onto my calendar the following day.

But for everything else — anything that's been on my calendar for three days — I do one of four things:

1. Do it immediately. I'm often amazed at how many things have been sitting on my list for days that, when I decide to do them, take a few short minutes. Often they turn out to be 30- second voicemails or two-minute emails. Those things I do immediately.

2. Schedule it. For those things that I don't do immediately, I look for a time to slot them into on my calendar. It doesn't matter to me if it's six months away. If it's important enough for me to have on my list, then I need to be able to commit to doing it at a specific time on a specific day. I can always change my plan when I review my calendar for that day, but if I want it done, it needs to be scheduled.

There are, of course, some things that I'm not willing to schedule at all. Perhaps a meeting with someone that I think would be a good idea but isn't a priority enough to schedule. Or something that I schedule and then, each time I get to the scheduled day, I choose to bump off for more important priorities. If that's the case, then I face the fact that while I'd like to think that particular item is important, I'm not acting that way. So I let it go.

3. Let it go. That's a nice way of saying delete the to-do. If I'm not willing to do something immediately or schedule it for a specific time and day, I simply admit that I will not get it done. I face the reality that while I might like these things to be priorities, they simply aren't enough of a priority to do.

Sometimes, though, it's too hard to delete something. I don't want to admit that I'm not going to do it. And I don't want to forget that I think, someday, maybe it would be a good idea. So I put those items in a someday/maybe list.

4. Add it to a someday/maybe list. This is a list I learned from David Allen, author of the bestseller Getting Things Done. It's where I put things to slowly die. I rarely, if ever, do things on this list. I look at it monthly or so, periodically delete the ones that are no longer relevant, and then put the list away for another month. I probably could delete everything on this list but I sleep a little better knowing I can put things on it when I'm not courageous or guilt-free enough to delete them right off the bat. And who knows? Perhaps someday, maybe, I'll do something on that list.

There's one other list I keep and that's my Waiting list. If I've sent someone an email, left a voicemail, or expect to hear back from someone about something, I put that item on my Waiting list. This way I don't lose track of things I expect from others — and I'm able to follow up if I don't receive them — but I also don't have to look at those items every day or confuse them with things I have to actually do. This list is on my computer, and I assign a date and reminder to each item. That way I don't have to think about what I'm waiting for or when I should review the list. I simply wait for the reminder and if I haven't received the thing I'm waiting for, I'll know to follow up or, simply, let go of the expectation of hearing back from the person.

That's my process. It ensures that nothing stays on my to-do list for more than three days. And once I've scheduled everything I plan to do for the day, I don't have to look at my list again that day, except to add items that come up throughout the day.

It takes all the guilt out of the list.

Article Written By: Peter Bregman
Article Obtained From: Harvard Business Review

A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List

Posted by: CS Chamber on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 12:03:01 pm Comments (0)

When my wife Eleanor was a little girl, maybe nine or ten years old, she needed new shoes. So she told her mother and they agreed to go shoe shopping the following Saturday morning. But when Saturday rolled around, Eleanor's mother was too busy and realized she wasn't going to be able to fit in the shoe-shopping trip. So she told Eleanor they'd have to do it later.

"When?" Eleanor asked.

"Sometime this weekend," her mom responded.

"When this weekend?"

"Tomorrow."

"When tomorrow?" Eleanor persisted.

"How about two in the afternoon?"

At that, Eleanor relaxed. "Sounds great! Thanks, mom."

And, sure enough, at 2 pm the following day, Eleanor and her mom went to buy new shoes. The shopping trip that would not have happened had Eleanor not insisted on knowing exactly when they were going to go.

She reminded me of this story the other day when she asked me how my day had gone and I responded that it went well but there were a lot of things I had hoped to do that I didn't get done. She remarked that I felt that way every night. She observed that I never get to the end of a day and feel like I accomplished everything I had set out to accomplish. Perhaps, she mused, what I hoped to get done in a day was unrealistic.

She's right of course. For many of us, our to-do list has become more of a guilt list: an inventory of everything we want to do, plan to do, really should do, but never get to. It's more like an I'm-never-going-to-get-to-it list.

And the longer the list, the less likely we'll get to it, and the more stressed we'll become,
The solution to this I'm-never-going-to-get-to-it list can be found in Eleanor's childhood shoe-shopping trip, specifically in that final question that satisfied her: "When tomorrow?"

Even at that early age, Eleanor understood the secret to getting stuff done. She had a formula for turning an intention into an action.

It's what I call the power of when and where.

Decide when and where you will do something, and the likelihood that you'll follow through increases dramatically. The reason we're always left with unfinished items on our to-do lists is because those lists are the wrong tool to drive our accomplishments. A list is useful as a collection tool. It's there to help us make sure we know the pool of things that need to be done.

A calendar, on the other hand, is the perfect tool to guide our daily accomplishments. A calendar is finite; there are only a certain number of hours in a day. That fact becomes clear the instant we try to cram an unrealistic number of things into a finite space.
So, once you've got your list of things to do, take your calendar decide when and where you are going to do your to-do's. Schedule each to-do into a time slot, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. That will make it most likely that you'll accomplish what you need to and feel good at the end of the day.

Since your entire to-do list will not fit into your calendar — and I can assure you that it won't — you need to prioritize your list for that day. What is it that really needs to get done today? What important items have you been ignoring? Where can you slot those things into your schedule? Then, once you schedule an item, cross it off your list.

Following this process will invariably leave you with things still on your to-do list. But don't worry: that's actually a good thing.

If you hadn't scheduled those items, you'd still have had things to do left over at the end of the day, only you wouldn't have had control over which items got done and which got left behind. And that would have left you surprised, disappointed, and, most importantly, helpless.

Now, on the other hand, you can be strategic about what gets left behind. You can decide, in the morning or the night before, what's really important to do and commit to when and where you'll do it.

And you can be sure that if you decide when and where you're going to do those things — if you answer Eleanor's question, "When tomorrow?" — you'll reliably and predictably get them done.

 

Article Written By: Peter Bregman
Article Obtained From: Harvard Business Review

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

Posted by: CS Chamber on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 1:53:34 pm Comments (0)
Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others? If you aren't sure, you are far from alone in your confusion. It turns out that even brilliant, highly accomplished people are pretty lousy when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail. The intuitive answer — that you are born predisposed to certain talents and lacking in others — is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact, decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.

1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. "Lose 5 pounds" is a better goal than "lose some weight," because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you'll "eat less" or "sleep more" is too vague — be clear and precise. "I'll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights" leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you've actually done it.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals.
Given how busy most of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it's not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. Did you really have no time to work out today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.

To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g., "If it's Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I'll work out for 30 minutes before work.") Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress — if not by others, then by you yourself. If you don't know how well you are doing, you can't adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.

4. Be a realistic optimist.
When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don't underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly increases the odds of failure.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.
Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won't improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.

Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your fullest potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

6. Have grit.
Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. In fact, grit even predicts which round contestants will make it to at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The good news is, if you aren't particularly gritty now, there is something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don't have the innate abilities successful people have. If that describes your own thinking .... well, there's no way to put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed. Embracing this knowledge will not only help you see yourself and your goals more accurately, but also do wonders for your grit.

7. Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control "muscle" is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn't get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.

To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you'd honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100 sit-ups a day, stand up straight when you catch yourself slouching, try to learn a new skill. When you find yourself wanting to give in, give up, or just not bother — don't. Start with just one activity, and make a plan for how you will deal with troubles when they occur ("If I have a craving for a snack, I will eat one piece of fresh or three pieces of dried fruit.") It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier, and that's the whole point. As your strength grows, you can take on more challenges and step-up your self-control workout.

8. Don't tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it's important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Don't try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time). And don't put yourself in harm's way — many people are overly-confident in their ability to resist temptation, and as a result they put themselves in situations where temptations abound. Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won't do. Do you want to successfully lose weight, quit smoking, or put a lid on your bad temper? Then plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research on thought suppression (e.g., "Don't think about white bears!") has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior — by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.
If you want change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? For example, if you are trying to gain control of your temper and stop flying off the handle, you might make a plan like "If I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm down." By using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your anger, your bad habit will get worn away over time until it disappears completely.

It is my hope that, after reading about the nine things successful people do differently, you have gained some insight into all the things you have been doing right all along. Even more important, I hope are able to identify the mistakes that have derailed you, and use that knowledge to your advantage from now on. Remember, you don't need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It's never what you are, but what you do.

Article Written By: Heidi Grant Halvorson
Article Obtained From: Harvard Business Review Blogs

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. is a motivational psychologist, and author of the new book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (Hudson Street Press, 2011). She is also an expert blogger on motivation and leadership for Fast Company and Psychology Today. Her personal blog, The Science of Success, can be found at www.heidigranthalvorson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hghalvorson

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