Does Your To-Do List Motivate You?

by Michael Pietrzak February 04, 2016

Does Your To-Do List Motivate You?

This is Part 3 of a 4-part series on taking control of your time 
(Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3)

I want to introduce you to a tool I've been using every day for the last five years.
 
It’s a daily to-do list with built-in motivation for the user. Mine looks like this:

Sample To-Do List

I write this every morning in a notepad and keep it by my side all day long. It helps me to:

  • Remember how I want to live my life
  • Decide what I want to accomplish with my day
  • Arrange those tasks from most to least important
  • Record everything I've done that day so I can pat myself on the back, or see what time wasters I can skip tomorrow
How it works

 
1. Intentions:
 
Like goals, we set intentions to remind us of our direction. Goals are specific, concrete, measurable, and have a deadline. Goals are the domain of our logical & methodical brains.
 
Intentions come from the gut and the heart. Intentions are statements of how we intend to live, moment to moment. Good intentions remind us of our purpose and guide us to become the person we are not yet.
 
As an example, my top intention, “I practice mindfulness in every moment,” reminds me that I will live a richer life when I pay attention, and guard against allowing my automatic mind to dictate my behavior. Mindfulness, as Leo of zenhabits.net points out, is the most important habit because it helps you do all the others better. My best work happens when I’m more mindful.
 
I write the same intentions almost every day. Why?

I am programming my brain. The reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of the brain that acts as a filter between your conscious and subconscious.

Ideas that you put into your conscious mind over and over again will settle into your unconscious, and those ideas will reappear in the future, influencing your actions.

The more I write my intentions, the more likely I am to start acting in line with them.

I take two-minutes a day to do this, and it delivers benefits all day.
 
After writing my intentions I divide the rest of the page into two columns: my "to-do" list and my "ta-da" list.

 

2. The To-Do List:
 
No shit alert: my to-do list is a list of things I want to accomplish today. But without prioritizing your tasks, you’re wasting time. The same categories that I used in my weekly to-do list I apply here:

  • (A) Urgent Tasks: those you have to do quickly.
  • (B) Non-Urgent Tasks: things that can wait until the rest of the list is handled.
  • (G) Great Tasks: those that are most likely to bring you to the kind of life you want to live.
  • (D) Delegate: anything you can give away.

I list everything I want to get done today then label them in order of what I will do 1st, 2nd, etc. Your “greatest” work comes first. I rarely get through my whole list, but that means the system is working – the most important work gets done, and the least does not.

3. The Ta-Da List:
 
As I work, I start to cross items off my to-do list and put them on my ta-da list. In fact, everything I do in a day (ok, maybe not brushing my teeth) goes onto this list. At the end of the day I can see how much I’ve accomplished, and feel great about it. When you see day after day what you've accomplished, you want to do more.

Hello, motivation!
 
In my last three posts I talked about the value of having weekly, quarterly, and yearly plans. But the daily “plan” is the glue that holds all of this together. Great accomplishment is the sum of a whole lot of unsexy, often repetitive, small tasks. If you can follow this plan and make it habit, it won’t be long before you celebrate some major achievements. 


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Michael Pietrzak
Michael Pietrzak

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