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The Power Of The Master List

The Power Of The Master List

My brain functions in overdrive mode 99% of the time. It is as if I have a 6th gear just beyond my reach which it auto slips into, without me willing it in that direction. I am highly responsive to stimuli in my environment and I find that most events, people, and discussions spark a myriad of ideas off inside of me. My brain races with these concepts, builds legs onto them and before I know, a fully fleshed out, actionable plan is making itself at home. If this crazy web of ideas is not contained or channeled, my productivity nosedives and I struggle to pull myself back into a place of focus and directed work time. I have learned to develop a system that helps me to not only manage the flow of ideas, but also to stay focused to get the critical work out the door.

The master list is the most important part of the system I have developed:

The master list has come to define my every day working life. It has in fact come to form the very backbone of my week. The master list is the list of all lists, the list that ties all other smaller lists back together. It is the place of consolidation where your brain can dump its over-stimulated, multitasking self and have a cup of tea.

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A Master List Needs to Be:

  • Accessible at all times
  • Within easy reach
  • Easy to edit

Think: “What object is always with me?” In most cases, it will be a diary or mobile phone. My preference is a digital list on a mobile as notebooks and diaries often get left behind on desks, in drawers, next to beds and in vehicles. Your mobile tends to be with you for the greater part of every day.

I use my Master List as follows:

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  • I add every possible item in my life that needs doing onto it (yes, it’s a long list).
  • In order to clear my mind, I jot down ‘to-do’ items systematically according to work/business/clients, family, relationship, friendships, home, fitness, admin, hobbies, and travel.
  • Every Sunday evening or Monday morning before I do anything else, I take out my master list and determine which 10 items relating to work and business I am going to focus on for that week.
  • I then create a new ‘to-do’ list specifically for that week and transfer these items onto it.
  • I prioritize these items according to their revenue value, the closer they are to revenue generating, the higher prioritize they are.
  • I then transfer five other admin or personal items from the master list onto my weekly list.
  • Every Friday I review my list to either carry forward or mark complete the items that were done.

I own a business so sales and revenue are very important for me. If you work as a creative director in an advertising agency, other activities such as client briefings, brief write-ups, sourcing of artwork suppliers and team management will be the core functions within your workweek. These core work functions are what should be priorities on your list no matter what your vocation is. To determine what your core work functions are, ask, “What was I employed to do?” and “Why am I here?” Make your core functions the highest priority in your working week. After this, you are able to pad up the week with peripheral ‘to-do’ items that matter but are not critical to your core job.

I choose to transfer 10 items at the start of every week because I have found this to be my optimal productivity space. If I complete two highly critical tasks for the day that lead to revenue and then attend to less urgent matters, I am able to bring in a good revenue stream and still experience a work/life balance. You will need to analyze your own rhythms to see what your optimal space is. This takes time but soon becomes very apparent when you are either completing your to ‘do-list’ by Tuesday or only getting to three items out of the 20 you listed every week.

I have discovered many benefits from using this system. The benefits specifically related to productivity include:

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  • I can empty my mind of everything that is whirring around inside of it
  • I can focus on what really matters on any particular day without stressing that I will forget something
  • It is always with me
  • It syncs up to all my electronic devices when I update it on one device
  • I can easily share it with other people who need to be kept up to date with a particular list
  • I can assign lists to freelancers and employees that I am working with
  • I can create multiple lists in one place without losing any of them
  • I can back my lists up
  • I can share interesting lists with blogs and Twitter people who highlight interesting lists
  • I can use a tool like idonethis.com to see visually over a year how many items on average I cross off every day, which are my most productive days and which are my least productive days.
  • I can view the word clouds in idonethis from my lists to see what activities dominate over others.

I use two tools to manage my Master List:

  1. Wunderlist: This is an iPhone application that allows you to very easily create, share, and manage lists.
  2. idonethis: This is an accountability tool that sends you an email at the end of every day, asking you what you did for that day. I decided to use it to keep myself accountable. I look forward to replying to the email with all the items I ticked off of my list for that particular day.

Implementing this system has not come naturally to me but I have increased my productivity (which I track using Rescue Time) by 34 percent to date. That has reflected back onto my revenue that has also increased by approximately 30% since I have deliberately become more sales focused. I find that I have to keep reminding myself to come back to Wunderlist and idonethis. My natural inclination is to revert to sticky notes, scraps of papers and journals that all just amount too many plans and no actions. However, I remind myself that this way, I am happily moving forward ten steps every week.

Tell us about your lists. Do you use them and if so, how do you manage them? (Ed: We’re building Listible to help you create lists)

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Featured photo credit:  Young dark woman writing on notepad via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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