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Back to Basics: Your Task List

Back to Basics: Your Task List

Todo List

    Everyone makes a task list (or “todo list”) at least now and again. Usually, we wait until we’re overwhelmed with stuff to do, and then we’ll sit down and list everything we need to get done in the next day or two. Then, one by one, we go through the items on our list, do them, and cross them off.

    We do this because it feels better when we do. One minute, you’re at wit’s end, your attention divided 60 different ways, with no idea what to do next, and the next minute you’re in control, with everything neatly plotted: do this, then do that, then do this other thing. And, eventually, we cross the last item off and throw the list out.

    Until the next time we’re overwhelmed.

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    We make todo lists when we’re under pressure because they work. Imagine how much better they’d work – and how much more rarely we’d reach that “freaking out” stage – if we simply integrated the list-making into our day-to-day routines.

    Your brain is for doing

    Todo lists are important because every unfinished task you’ve made a commitment to causes stress. What’s more, your brain knows its own limits, so as you add more and more unfinished tasks, your brain starts thinking that some of them aren’t going to get finished – causing even more stress.

    That’s why it feels so good to write that task list – your brain lets out a sigh of relief, knowing that now, at least, it doesn’t have to try to keep track of all that stuff. Your brain doesn’t want to be remembering all the things you haven’t done. It wants to be doing them, so it can feel good about itself. The neurology of all this is a bit more complicated, but that’s the basic idea.

    Of Paper and Processors

    Your todo list doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A pocket notebook, a 3×5 index card, any of about a hundred computerized task lists whether online or off. I use a two-part system.

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    I have a section of the same notebook I use for capture that I use to list tasks; it’s marked with a Post-it Tab Divider. I use this as a kind of “task inbox” – what I don’t get done right away gets transferred into an online task manager called Toodledo. I use a computerized one because a) my list is usually longer than a page, and I don’t like having to flip back and forth and sort through finished tasks and unfinished ones to find the one I’m supposed to be doing next, and b) I can sort them by due date instead of by when I thought of it, as well as by project. And, I suppose, c) it’s a lot neater than my handwritten lists.

    It’s helpful to write not just the task but the reason for the task, to give you a pointer to what’s next after you’ve finished any particular task. I use a formula like this:

    • [Action verb][task] for [project or goal]

    For example:

    • Call Caroline at 555-xxxx to transfer insurance into my name (for car registration)
    • Write “Back to Basics” post for Lifehack
    • Grade papers for WMST 113.210 by Wednesday

    Note that I put in all the information I need (or as much as I have available) to complete the task. I don’t want to give myself an excuse not to do it, because I have to go find the phone number or I can’t remember which class folder I need to get. On the first one, I put “for car registration” so I’ll remember when I’m done transferring the insurance that I need to schedule a visit to the DMV.

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    Keep it with you

    Whatever format you decide to keep it in, make sure you have access to your list at all times. I use an online system because a) I’m rarely far from a computer, and b) I carry an Internet-enabled smartphone with me at all times. If that weren’t the case, I’d use a paper-only system.

    It’s crucial to have your list available under any circumstance. For one thing, you never know when you might have a few minutes to work on a couple of tasks; if you don’t have your list, you might waste those opportunities. Second, you never know when you might have to add something to the list.

    I keep Toodledo open in my browser at all times when I’m working at the computer; as I process my inboxes, I can easily switch windows and add tasks directly. If you use paper, it’s even easier; lay your notebook in front of you on your desk and add to it as needed. Make a habit of this, so you never have to wait until later to add a todo item – that defeats the purpose!

    What about context?

    If you’re a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, you might be thinking “but what about contexts?” To be honest, I don’t use them, but many people do. The idea is, you keep not just one list but a set of lists, one for each “context” in which you regularly do tasks (or, using a computerized list, you add tags to each list item noting the context it belongs to).

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    A context is a place or situation. For instance, you have tasks you do “at home” and tasks you do “at the office” and tasks you do “on the phone” and tasks you do “out and about”. So you have a list of tasks you do on the phone; whenever you have a few minutes and your phone is handy, you can take a look at your “@phone” list and see if there’s a call you could make. When you’re at home, you can look only at the items on your “@home” list. This way, you’re not constantly searching through tasks that you can’t do right now; you only ever look at tasks you can do right this minute.

    Like I said, I don’t use contexts. I work at home, so all my contexts pretty much overlap. But for people who have clearly defined environments they move through over the course of the day, contexts can be a big help.

    Your lists

    What about you? How do you manage your lists? What works for you – and what have you tried that hasn’t worked? Let us know in the comments!

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    Last Updated on October 18, 2018

    10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

    10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

    When it comes to starting your own business and pursuing your dream of becoming an entrepreneur, it can be advantageous to go all in and embrace the flexibility of finally quitting your day job.

    Keep in mind, though, that it takes a special kind of person to take the business world by storm: a person who has cultivated the key characteristics of entrepreneurial success.

    People with these characteristics are likely to succeed, whereas people without them have difficulty moving forward with even the most brilliant business ideas.

    These characteristics of an entrepreneur are so important that I’ve decided to cover all 10 of them in detail so that you can start your business with your best foot forward.

    1. Successful Entrepreneurs Practice Discipline

    Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline.

    To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun.

    Andrew Carnegie, one of the most financially successful Americans of all time, grew up working dull and difficult jobs in factories. Despite going to bed hungry some nights, he continued doing his best work. He was eventually hired by a railroad company and continued to move up the ladder until starting his own successful businesses. Carnegie is a fine example of an entrepreneur dedicated to discipline and hard work. He truly earned his dreams of prosperity and success.

    When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there’s no short-term consequences for skipping out early.

    Sure, if an entrepreneur plays hooky enough he knows that the business just won’t happen, but it’s very hard to convince someone that ‘just this once’ won’t hurt (and to keep ‘just this once’ from becoming a daily occurrence).

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    2. Successful Entrepreneurs Keep Calm

    Things go wrong when you run your own business.

    Most entrepreneurs go through crises with their businesses — and more than a few wind up with outright failures on their hands. But when you’re responsible for a business, you have to be able to keep calm in any situation. Any other reaction — whether you lose your temper or get flustered — compounds the problem.

    Instead, a good entrepreneur must have the ability to keep his cool in an emergency or crisis. It may not make the problem easier to solve, but it certainly won’t make it harder.

    Honestly, losing your calm is a quick path to becoming the kind of person who gives up in the face of adversity. Instead giving in to frustration, remember classic entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin.

    Franklin kept his calm as he experimented and tweaked his inventions again and again in pursuit of success. He didn’t give up during his many failures – he chose to innovate. You can choose innovation, too.

    If an entrepreneur can handle failure without frustration or anger, s/he can move past it to find success.

    3. Successful Entrepreneurs Pay Attention to Details

    Restricting your attention to the big picture can be even more problematic than ‘sweating the small stuff.’

    As an entrepreneur, unless venture capital has magically dropped out of the sky, a small expense can be a killer. It’s attention to detail that can make a small business successful when it has competition and it’s attention to detail that can keep costs down.

    Attention to detail can be difficult to maintain — going over ledgers can be tedious even when you aren’t trying to pay close attention — but keeping your eye on a long-term vision is just asking for a problem to sneak in under a radar.

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    After a business grows, an entrepreneur might be able to hire someone to worry about the details. In the beginning, though, only one person can take responsibility for the details.

    Skeptical about the importance of details? Look no further than Howard Schultz, who grew a small coffee shop called Starbucks into one of the most globally successful coffee businesses in the world through his extreme attention to detail.

    He is famous for taking all aspects of growing a business into account, paying attention not only to financially smart business decisions, but also focusing on socially responsible business decisions. Details can take you far.

    4. Successful Entrepreneurs Embrace Risks

    No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money s/he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business.

    It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that without developing an ulcer, you have to have a good tolerance for risk.

    You don’t need to channel your inner frat boy and take on absolutely stupid risks, but you need to know just how much you can afford to risk — and get a good idea of how likely you are to lose it. If the numbers make you uncomfortable, the risk is too great.

    Embracing risks is essential for growth and additional success, as well. Walt Disney, for example, could have stayed comfortable with his advances in the film and animation industries, but decided to expand his brand with a new dream: a theme park that soared above the competition. Without taking this risk, the incredibly successful Disney theme park empire would never have come about.

    An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.

    5. Successful Entrepreneurs are Balanced

    You can take any characteristic too far. There’s a point at which attention to detail can become obsession or calm can become unemotional response.

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    As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to balance your characteristics, getting the most of them without going over the edge. But balance for an entrepreneur goes far beyond keeping your characteristics in check, though.

    Just as an entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to keep them at work when necessary, they don’t have one to send them home when they’re done. If you are working for yourself, you have to decide how to balance your work and home life — and if you have a day job to add into the equation, balance just gets more complicated.

    Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs out there, understands the importance of balance. Winfrey has a lot going on; she runs her own media kingdom, acts, produces films, publishes print, and more. In an interview with Fast Company,[1] she talks about her efforts to balance priorities and self care, saying that she must ask herself what is truly important in each limited day.

    You may or may not have as much on your plate as Oprah, but learning how to balance whatever you have going on in life will certainly help you farther along down the road as you learn to be a great entrepreneur.

    6. Successful Entrepreneurs are Passionate and Motivated

    In order to develop any of the above characteristics, you must have a foundation of passion. Staying disciplined day after day during the building of your business takes unrivaled motivation.

    Before you start any business, ask yourself if you can sustain true excitement about your idea during even the darkest days ahead of you. If the answer is yes, then good for you! Nurture your natural motivation by taking these action steps throughout your business journey:

    • Commit to making short and long-term goals. Check in with them often to stay on task.
    • Have a plan in place for the inevitable days when you feel discouraged. Make a list of things that will help keep you motivated and focused.
    • Share your ideas with trusted individuals who are just as excited as you are. They will help keep your enthusiasm rolling even when you are feeling down.

    By being prepared for apathetic days and holding fast to your authentic passion, you can actually enjoy your journey to success.

    7. Successful Entrepreneurs Adapt

    Remember this one word: flexibility. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that change is not only a part of life, but also a part of the business world. Expect change and choose to adapt.

    As a new entrepreneur, it will be tempting to cling to your original business plan with no exceptions, even if you notice it isn’t working. Good entrepreneurs know that it’s okay to make smart, informed changes in order to ensure efficiency.

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    8. Successful Entrepreneurs are Marketing and Sales Experts

    No matter what kind of business you are starting, a knowledge of marketing and sales will save you many headaches. A passion for creating a beautiful handmade lifestyle product is not enough to run a successful lifestyle brand; it is critical that you understand key business principles in addition to your natural skills or great product line.

    Not sure how to start? Taking business courses is a great idea, but you can also easily brush up on sales and marketing through free online resources. Check out these 10 Sales Skills Everyone Should Master To Be Successful to begin now.

    9. Successful Entrepreneurs Have Strong Money Management

    Along with sales and marketing skills, money management is a very useful tool in the box of the entrepreneur. Understanding how to best manage your money can be the difference between early success and early failure in the business world.

    If money management isn’t your strongest skill, prepare to hire a financial expert to help you with any tricky business that comes up. Financial guidance and knowledge is never a bad idea.

    10. Successful Entrepreneurs Ask Questions and Continually Improve

    Pride is a natural human quality, but it’s important to humbly conduct some constructive criticism every now and again on both yourself as a leader and your new business as a whole.

    Assess how things are going and be willing to make positive changes if necessary. Here’re 15 ways to cultivate lifelong learning.

    If you are always improving, then how can you ultimately fail?

    The Bottom Line

    Let me remind you of one important fact: the qualities of an entrepreneur listed here are not exclusively available to some people and elusive to others.

    Although some people may have natural strengths and weaknesses, these qualities can be learned by anyone interested in taking up the entrepreneurial challenge. It might not be easy to change old habits, but it is absolutely possible to cultivate these characteristics in yourself.

    Whether you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, with hard work, you can train yourself to develop the qualities that truly determine the entrepreneurial spirit and future success.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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