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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 March 30, 2020

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

So, what to do in free time?

Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

1. Reading Files

Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

2. Clear out Inbox

Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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3. Phone Calls

Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

4. Make Money

This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

5. File

No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

6. Network

Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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7. Clear out Feeds

If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

8. Goal Time

Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

9. Update Finances

Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

10. Brainstorm Ideas

Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

11. Clear off Desk

Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

12. Exercise

Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

13. Take a Walk

This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

14. Follow up

Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

15. Meditate

You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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16. Research

This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

17. Outline

Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

18. Get Prepped

Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

19. Be Early

Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

20. Log

If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

More Inspirations on What To Do During Free Time

Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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