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The Power of the List: Essential Lists for Productivity

The Power of the List: Essential Lists for Productivity

    If there is anything that I have learned from trying to become “more productive” and “doing” GTD over the last few years is that you are only as productive as the weakest part in your system. Your system can be anything really; it doesn’t have to be a mass of expensive online and digital tools, it can be a crappy notebook and pen as long as you are using and reviewing as much as you need to keep things out of your head and moving forward.

    After almost 4 years of doing this GTD and productivity thing, I have to say that the most important part of my system are lists; they are the core of anything that I have used as a tool and without them my system wouldn’t exist. If you aren’t a list keeper or a wannabe list keeper, take a look at the following lists that are considered to be essential.

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    Context specific Action Lists

    The action list, or what some of you non-GTD peeps might call “to-do lists”, are list of one-off tasks that you have to complete. The list is composed of single tasks that you can complete in a sitting like making a phone call, drafting a letter, reading a chapter in a book etc.

    Action lists that are context specific mean that you can create a list that is related to a tool or location like a list of stuff that needs finished while at home, on the computer, away from home, or even a specific tool like Visual Studio or Photoshop.

    Projects Lists

    Following action lists, we can’t forget about project lists. There are two different types of project lists:

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    1. A full list of projects
    2. A list for one project that outlines the steps of the project

    A full list of projects entails a flat list of all the current projects that you are currently acting on. We are talking about canonical GTD project lists here. You can also get sort of creative with this list by making sperate projects lists that match your “Areas of Focus” in your life, like School projects, Work projects, Home, Personal, etc.

    A list for one project that outlines the steps of the project can be used as a “Master Plan” for that project. This of course isn’t a frozen plan of any kind, it can be updated as you see fit. If you are using a task manager that doesn’t handle outlining very well (think Outlook) you could create an outline of the project in a Word document and then put a link to it in the note field of the project task in Outlook. This allows you to refer to the project when you need to, especially after you finish a few actions off of your action lists.

      Running Lists

      Running lists are lists of things that you add to on a consistent basis like books to read or restaurants to try out. Running lists are super powerful in that they keep the entries out of your “core” task management system and can be referred to when you need them.

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      The way that I handle running lists is that I have all of them stored on Dropbox in simple text files. I can open them from anywhere I have internet access and the best part is that I don’t have to rely on some “proprietary” format like Springpad or Evernote to handle them. They are just plain ol’ text files and because of that, highly portable.

      Some of the running lists I suggest are books to read, bands to check out, restaurants to try (with the city included in the title), things you want to buy, movies to watch, red flags of things that kill your productivity, and even a daily journal.

      Template Lists

      Once I figured out the idea of creating templates for projects that happen again and again, it gave me back a large amount of time that I would have used creating a project and setting up all the actions and dependencies in my task manager. I now create a project template inside of OmniFocus and set its status to “on hold”. When I need to use it I copy it and then change the copies status to active and go from there.

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      The thing is that you don’t have to be a OmniFocus user to use project templates. You can just as easily create a document or text file with the outline of what the project entails and then refer to it when you need it.

      Some of the template lists I suggest would be getting ready for a personal business trip, family vacations, morning and evening routines, end of week routines, bills to pay every month, etc.

      Conclusion

      The power of the list is truly amazing. You wouldn’t think something so easy to make and dumb could have such a huge impact on your life, that is unless you have a set of important lists that you use on a daily basis. Lists help you stay focused and learn from your past successes and mistakes. They help you remember mundane things that you would forget otherwise and provide a way for you to stay organized. They are a good way of seeing where you came from and where you are trying to be in your profession and/or personal life.

      I know there are some list users that read Lifehack, so with that, what are your essential lists for productivity? Post them in the comments below.

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      Last Updated on August 20, 2018

      What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

      What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

      What separates highly successful people from the “average crowd?” This is a topic that is widely discussed.

      If you want to be successful, you have to watch carefully what other successful people do and imitate them. While every successful person has his or her own unique approach, there are a couple thoughts and actions they have in common.

      Here are 7 habits many successful people have!

      1. They make a difference

      If you have an idea, that idea has to change peoples life’s. As long as you’re not helping other people, it’s useless. Don’t start with an activity or business primarily to make money, it won’t work. When you create fans by offering your expertise, they are willing to pay for it. The problem with today’s entrepreneurial mindset is that’s all about “quick” money and not necessarily about making a difference.

      “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

      2. They focus on productivity instead of on being busy

      Do you know those people who always say they can’t meet up with you or help with a certain thing because they’re always busy? I do, and to be honest I was one of them.

      When I look back, I don’t actually know with what I was being busy. I thought I was being busy, but now I realize I could have done many things in a much more productive way.

      Is 8 hours of work actually 8 hours when you’re checking your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram updates every 30 minutes? It’s necessary to take a rest once a while, but don’t get lost in hundreds of status updates that make you forget about your priorities.

      Looking for some tips? Check out this infographic: How to be productive by doing more and working less

      3. They keep setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

      You can never reach the success you want if you’re not setting goals. The trick is to set up a couple small, achievable goals and a couple of bigger ones. If you only set up huge, unachievable goals, you’ll get unmotivated and fall back into your old mindset. The small goals keep you motivated and give you the feeling you’re being productive once you achieve them.

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      Try setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These goals are concrete and well-defined measures of your progress.

      A while ago, I asked a friend of mine what his goal was this year. He told me he wanted a sports car. I told him he will have much trouble reaching that goal because it isn’t specific. He needs to know the brand, the model, the color, what kind of rims etc. Only then he can define how long it’s going to take and what he needs to do in order to buy that car.

      4. They take action

      There is a big difference between talking or actually taking action. I’m pretty sure you have people around you who’ve said, “This year, I’m going to lose weight, become fit, and look like I’ve never looked before!” Or, “I’ve got such a good idea, I’m planning to start a new business, but first I’m going to do some research,” which probably results in never taking any action.

      Many of those people do take action, but the majority do not. It could be many things that keep them from taking action, like fear, no money, or no motivation. The trick is to make a plan and take action right from the start—choose to put in the effort to overcome those obstacles.

      5. They exercise and eat right

      The better you treat your body, the better you will feel, which results in better results. Successful people take time to prepare healthy meals and work out for at least 30 minutes a day.

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      Not having time to work out or prepare a healthy meal is nonsense. If you have time to watch TV or check your social media profile, you also have time to care about your body.

      You don’t necessarily need to lose weight or gain muscle, but try to stay in shape and watch your junk food intake.

      6. They always step out of their comfort-zone

      Successful people are willing to do everything they have to succeed. If they fail, they try it again and learn from it. The vast majority of people think differently and want to stay in their comfort zone.

      You can’t expect magic is going to happen when you always do the same things over and over again. You need to step up and start doing new things. The fear of failure is usually the reason that keeps people from acting.

      Think about something you’ve done in the past. Something that was so scary that it made you sweat, feel nauseous, or become overly nervous. That could be giving a speech in front of a big crowd or asking someone on a date. In the end, it wasn’t as scary and difficult as you thought, right? And you’ve learned from it.

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      Approach everything in your life this way. If you really want to become successful, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

      “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” — Brian Tracy

      7. They lead

      Successful people are also incredibly good leaders. How can you stand out of the crowd if you follow the herd like anyone else does? The main thing successful people do differently is that they think and act differently from the rest. But they do it in a way that creates fans who follow and support them.

      You don’t have to be a born leader, but you can learn to be one. An example of a great leader and entrepreneur is Elon Musk. He is the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Zip2, PayPal, and Tesla Motors. By following his example, you just might find the great leader inside you.

      Have these tips helped you? Share them!

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      Featured photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via flickr.com

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