To Do Lists

To Do Lists

Most of us have “To Do” lists that are a mile long. Some are work focused, some are personal, most are a mixture of both. Regardless of whether we want to change professionally or personally, once we identify what we want to change, we seem to think that this is all it takes. Not true!

If we dig a little deeper into the change we want to make (instead of just moving it up and down the To Do list), there’s quite a lot of work involved in actually getting to the point where we can really make that change.

We all know where the blocks in our life are when we think about changing. However, effectively and systematically tackling and removing those blocks is often more challenging than making the intended change itself!

Take for example, my recent goal for change. I listened to Brian Tracy’s book on audio – “Eat That Frog”. I did all the exercises on writing out my various lists of Things To Do, goals, etc. I prioritised them, I rejected some and cleared the list out a bit, and ended up with a long list of stuff I wanted to tackle, some of which has been transferring across my To Do lists for up to a year. The first change I wanted to make was to get up half an hour earlier in the morning and use this extra time to a) meditate and b) write my correctly prioritised, manageable and achievable task list for the day. Easy eh? No.

Block 1
My first block is what Hal Elrod (author of The Miracle Morning) calls a Self-Limiting Belief. From my teens, I have held fast to the belief that “I am not a morning person”, or I say “If my schedule allowed me to stay in bed until 9am every morning, it would suit my body clock much better”. Now, it is true that I do work well later at night; and no matter how determined I am to go to bed early, I somehow get a second wind at around 10pm and never really get upstairs at the time I intend to; and I genuinely feel disgruntled about getting out of bed most mornings. However, a Self-Limiting Belief is exactly that – limiting. If I could get myself out of bed at 7am instead of 7.30am, I would start my day far more productively than I do now. But waking up every morning and allowing myself to think “Oh no, time to get up”, does far more than just impact my productivity, it impacts my POSITIVITY. I spend the first hour or two of every morning essentially in bad form, because in my mind, I am personally biologically unsuited to a 7.30am rising time. Even worse, I know that sometimes that second wind later in the evening, is in direct response to the tasks I could have or should have done earlier in the day, but didn’t get around to, because I wasn’t organised, didn’t prioritise and therefore allowed myself to get distracted with tasks that were unimportant (but made me feel busy and productive).  I did follow Hal’s advice on how to tackle my self limiting belief, and for an 8-10 week period I managed to get out of bed early most mornings.  Then came a bad patch of busyness with a lot of driving and late evenings working, and I let it slip.  I’ve left it so long, I now need to start over.  This happens to clients all the time too, so I will take my own advice and not beat myself up, I will just put the new plan in place and get back on track.

Block 2
This one is a biggie for clients of mine, or indeed of any health or coaching professional. Although I’ve invested time and a small amount of money in two very good resources on time management/getting things done – Hal and Brian’s books – I basically don’t like what I’m being told to do, which is to suck up the nastiest job on the To Do list first every morning, and stick with it until it gets done. I’ve a big, complex task to do that honestly feels like a Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, and yet I will do everything in my power to avoid doing it. I should be working on it now, and instead I’m writing this blog post! So a big block in change is knowing what we have to do, but fearing what actually doing it will be like as an experience. I hope by writing this post I’ll actually challenge myself to do the darned task as a result. Watch this space!

Block 3
This block is a doozie, and again lots of clients will identify with this. If I make the changes I want to make – becoming more focused, organised and therefore productive in my case – this will change me as a person. It will ‘turn me into’ one of those super organised, timetabled women who are on all the committees, do all the event organising, have their diaries planned out three months in advance, always cook from scratch, never run out of milk or bread and always look super whilst doing it all with a smile on their face. And that’s not me.

We all have a good idea of what we want, or indeed NEED to change in our lives. But we also have a very strong self-concept of who we are, and who we are not. This block – I’ll call mine The Block of The Imaginary Perfect Working Mother – is exactly that, imaginary.

First, there’s no way I’ll ever get THAT organised, it’s simply not in my nature. But I can take myself in hand and over the past year I have done so – I am in fact managing my diary much better, I am also better at writing To Do lists and trying to work my way through them systematically on my admin day, and I’ve also gotten better at tackling the nasty jobs first. Add to that the fact that I have gone back to meditating or using visualisation tools several times per week (just not at 7am), and I’ve done one big thing I’ve wanted to do for nearly three years, which is get involved in a project for my child’s school, and I’m suddenly realising that although I have not reached a point where I’m satisfied with my level of change, I’m a lot further on than I sometimes give myself credit for (yet another issue for my clients, not giving themselves credit for their small but important successes).

So, what’s the message? Well, it is this. Write out your To Do list (per Brian Tracy’s formula if you can). Prioritise your tasks, ditch those that are unimportant and work towards delegating or sharing tasks with others, at work or at home. Then review what you are left with, and put a plan in place (i.e. scheduling) which will allow you to systematically work through the list. The most important point of all this though, is to completely overestimate the time you think you’ll need for each change you want to make – because it is not just that change itself, but the various blocks you have to making that change that you need to devote time to. So to use Brian Tracy’s analogy, when it comes to eating frogs, it is about taking one bite at a time until it is finished – and after that, your day, week or year can only get better.

Attached is a Goal Setting and Problem Solving Sheet, complete with a case study that is related to wanting to get more exercise and tackling eating badly in the evening – something we can all be guilty of. You may find it helpful in terms of tackling your own blocks.

Goal Setting and Problem Solving Support Sheet