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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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      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on September 24, 2020

      17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

      17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

      In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

      The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

      Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

      1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

      Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

      For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

      2. Use the Pareto Principle

      Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

      Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

      3. Make Stakes

      Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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      However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

      4. Record Yourself

      Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

      5. Join a Group

      There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

      6. Time Travel

      Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

      Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

      7. Be a Chameleon

      When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

      Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

      “Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

      Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

      8. Focus

      Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

      Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

      9. Visualize

      The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

      Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

      Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

      10. Find a Mentor

      Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

      Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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      If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

      11. Sleep on It

      Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

      Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

      12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

      Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

      His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

      Check out his video to find out more:

      13. Learn by Doing

      It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

      Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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      14. Complete Short Sprints

      Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

      One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

      15. Ditch the Distractions

      Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

      Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

      16. Use Nootropics

      Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

      Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

      Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

      17. Celebrate

      For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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      The Bottom Line

      Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

      More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

      Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

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