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Why You Need a Task List

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Why You Need a Task List

Come New Years’s Day, most people will take stock of their lives and realize that, maybe they need to change something (or everything) about themselves. Gym membership sales go through the roof for the month of January. People stay out of restaurants and cook at home. The resolutions and goals run the gamut. The problem is that by mid-February (or sooner than that), everything is back to the way it was.

While I have never taken stock in resolutions, I do write down a list of goals that I want to accomplish for the next year. Most of the time, I only accomplish one or two. The reasons for this failure are not surprising.  In my case, it’s usually because my list is a mile long.

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For example, in 2009, I had 11 major goals on it. Some of those goals had big steps associated with them:

Write more music. Put out a new CD of 15 songs or so, combining cello, trumpet, violin, guitar, bass, drums and keys, possibly sax as well (guest musicians will be Caleb and Shawn). Get Studio operational again. Clean shed and create comfy work areas.

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That’s not a goal, that’s a major project. It has sub-goals, tasks, and timelines. Guess what DIDN’T happen in 2009.

By 2011, I hadn’t changed a thing. Still too much on the list; not much got accomplished.

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Now, there’s nothing wrong with goals. Goals not written down are just wishes, and we all know how that turns out. The problem is that, in order to succeed, you need to change your habits. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds in 5 years (measurable and achievable), then you’re going to have to change your habits. If your goal looks like “Lose 50 pounds”, then you are setting yourself up for failure…again.  The secret: Tasks are the roadmap, goals are the destination.

A Task List Helps You Form Habits

Instead, set up a weekly or daily task list. “Do cardio workout Monday” is more specific than “Go to the gym 3 times a week”.

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You’ll still have to go to the gym and do the cardio workout; merely writing down the goal in a different fashion doesn’t melt off the pounds. The difference is that “Lose 50 pounds” seems like a big mountain to overcome; “Do the cardio workout” is something that you can accomplish with just a few steps.

Another example would be that I am learning Blender, an Open Source 3D animation package. “Learn Blender” is too broad (and sad to admit, was on my list of goals for 2009); “Do Tutorial 6 in the Blender manual” is specific…and gets done. The net result is that every day, I am learning a little more about this product that I have wanted to learn since 2009. I won’t be winning any Oscars for Special Effects, but in a month or so, I will understand how to create a 3D model, and the habit of learning something new will have set in.

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What are you planning to get done? Sound off in the comments.

(Photo credit: Writing a To Do List via Shutterstock)

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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