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Hate Your To-Do List? Try A Rolling List Instead!

Hate Your To-Do List? Try A Rolling List Instead!
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    Oh, the great To-Do List Debate! The productivity world loves arguing over this topic.

    Are to-do lists the only way to keep yourself on task, or an unrealistic goal that just stresses you out and make you feel bad about all the things you never get to? Should you keep a short list of the most essential items, or a massive running list of every task you’ll ever need to remember?

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    I won’t try to jump into this debate, because the truth is that different things work for different people. For me, I’ve found what works best is something known as a “rolling” to-do list. So I’d like to share this technique with you — not to convince you that it’s the only way to go, but to give you another option you may find works well for you, too.

    How It Works

    If you always have multiple projects percolating at once, a rolling to-do list can be a great way to break down all the steps and deadlines and keep you on schedule without overwhelming you. Here’s how it works:

    Start with a blank document (digital, not paper). Rolling lists don’t work well on traditional calendars or notepads because there’s just too much reordering and rearranging. You need something you can easily cut and paste on as your priorities shift and new items come up.

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    Break your projects up into steps. Say one of your to-dos this month is to finish the Smith report. That task is made up of many smaller components: gathering research, compiling and organizing data, drafting the report, circulating it to coworkers for feedback. Write out each component as a separate item on your list, in the order you’ll need to-do them.

    Give those steps deadlines. Let’s say the Smith report is due in 2 weeks. Next to each component of the project, put down an estimated deadline for when you’d need to complete that item in order to keep things on schedule. This isn’t a hard and fast deadline, just a reference point to keep you from falling behind and to help you rank the item in the right spot on your list.

    Prioritize your items. Let’s say you’ve got five action items with deadlines this week. Decide which are the most crucial and put those first. If Mr. Smith is your biggest, most VIP client, then action items related to his report will probably go before any others. Whatever’s at the top of your list should always be the items you absolutely must get done, even if the rest get rolled over to tomorrow.

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    Tackle the items in order. No skipping ahead if you don’t particularly feel like doing item no. 1 right now. The whole point of ranking your items was to make sure the most important things get done first. So, buck up and do whatever’s on the top of your list.

    Reevaluate and reorder. Your list will always be evolving. Every morning, examine your tasks to make sure they’re still in the right order. Maybe another project has suddenly been upgraded to urgent status; bump its tasks up on the list. Maybe you’ve gotten some new to-dos, so you need to figure out where to fit them in. The key to keeping a rolling to-do list effective is to keep it rolling.

    Why It Helps

    It’s manageable. Rather than a list of big, nebulous projects that’s paralyzing to look at, a rolling list breaks things down into small, actionable items you can work on right now. You’re always chipping away at a piece of one project or another, making progress without getting overwhelmed.

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    It’s flexible. Life happens, and traditional to-do lists don’t accommodate that very well: if today’s to-dos don’t get to-done, they stay at the top of the list, while more things keep getting to the bottom, leaving you with twice as much work and twice as much stress. In comparison, a rolling list allows you to juggle things around and make space for the unexpected, restructuring your priorities as projects change and deadlines shift.

    If traditional lists haven’t worked for you, try giving the rolling list a trial run. You may find it’s just what you need to keep your changing priorities in order (and your sanity intact).

    (Photo credit: Thoughtful Businesswoman via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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