How Using Lists Will Skyrocket Your Productivity and Change Your Life in Under 5000 words

Everyone out there is trying to be more productive these days. Often times people spend more time trying to think of ways of being productive than actually doing productive things. That’s pretty counter- productive don’t you think? But in this world of technology and time, making use of the hours that you have has become as critical as ever.

Often times we feel completely overwhelmed with not only the sheer amount of things we think we need to get done in the day, but we’re also overwhelmed by how little hours we have to do it in. 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year seems to get smaller and smaller with each passing year. However, I have cracked a code on not only using your time more effectively but also doing less in the process while actually achieving more. What does that mean exactly? It means weeding out all the things that we do that are more of less wastes of time and focusing on the things that matter. Not only that, when we are in fact focusing on things that matter, that we’re not distracted by the other 3000 things we can be doing.

In order to achieve higher levels of productivity I use something that isn’t necessarily a novel idea. But the way in which I use them has literally changed my life. Lists. They’re old school. They’re effective. They work. But they key is not only the formation of your lists but also the gradual building and constant refinement of said lists. This article is going to help you construct a list that matches your lifestyle and goals. It’ll also have some motivational tips along the way.

What is a list exactly?

It’s literally that, a list. You create a list of stuff you need to get done. That’s it. No sugar coating. Be it on paper, computer screen, iPhone, or even writing it on your forearm each day, just make sure you’ve got a list that you can tend to and check off.

I can honestly tell you that creating lists is what has saved my life. Let me rephrase that. Creating lists, holding myself accountable, and completing lists each day has saved my life. In turn what they have actually done is create a seamless stream of never ending perseverance that’s been programmed into my brain. In essence I’m performing all of the necessary mental work In need to without even really doing it. Why? Because I’m so occupied with my list that my brain is on constant action and refocusing action mode. As long as I’m thinking “stick to the list” I don’t have any time for all of the other bullshit. And quite frankly, yes, it’s bullshit. Plus it’s a waste of time.
Altucher has his “Daily Practice.” My practice is my list which I think is more effective.

The Creation of your List

This one is a little tricky and is going to be different for everyone. It’s also going to be something that takes time to get “right.” And by right I mean what’s right and comfortable for you, and no one else. Because in this exercise, no one else matters but you. While that may sound selfish you’re going to find that by focusing on yourself as being number one, you’re eventually going to become 100% more selfless. Trust me, it’s going to happen.

So let’s get to the list formation? What in the hell do you put on the list? Everything that is basically essential for you and you only for that day and that day only. So let’s use me as an example. I structure my day in the following way. Things like taking care of my son and diapering him do not go on the list. Things like kissing my wife goodbye in the mornings do not go on the list.

However, they can go on yours. I’m just explaining that some things in my life are automatic and some things need ink to paper to tell me that I’ve got to do them. So for me it goes a little something like this.

First part of my day will be work, which is my first priority and gets done before anything else. I use what I call a daily planner and I have to get everything on that planner done.

My Work List

Emails, Webmaster Tools, Calendar, P&L, Edits
Make sure all ads are working, etc etc
Site Assignments
Schedule Tomorrow’s Articles
Work on, edit, improve past articles

Rest of Your Day

Site 1 – Work on Posts, Social Media Promotion
Site 2 – Work on Posts, Social Media Promotion
Site 3 – Work on Posts, Social Media Promotion
Site 4 – Work on Posts, Social Media Promotion
Site 5 – Work on Posts, Social Media Promotion

Make a video for Youtube
Write an article for Uncoached
Respond to comments on Social Media

The “For Myself” List

Workout
Piano – 5-10 minutes minimum
Write down another 10 ideas
Eat 2500 Calories, Drink 8 cups of water
Meditate for 20 min
Clean something in the house – Our Bathroom, countertops
Read before bed
Find an outdoor thing to do

Now it’s time to analyze this list to help you create your own. If you’ll notice the beginning of this list is strictly work so it might very well be something you completely don’t understand unless you’re in the business I am in. The point is this. The beginning of this list is my work “HAVE TOs.” This is my work. This is my job. This is my career. This is what puts food on the table. For me, I’ve got three categories that I put my daily list into. One thing to remember this is MY list. This does not have to be your list. However, you’ve got to make a list, period. And you’ve got to complete it every single day. You should read “The Daily Practice” by James Altucher. That’s his list. It’s way smaller than mine but in essence accomplishes the same goals.

Category 1 – The Work Have To’s and stuff you want to bang out as fast but as efficiently as possible

This is the stuff I have to do but in a professional realm. These are my actual job tasks. But they are job tasks that are essential to my work. Tasks that HAVE to be done. Tasks that if they’re not done, my business will suffer. Only you can decide what tasks to put on here. But for the sake of well-being and avoiding catastrophizing I would add just about any task you can as being a MUST. For example, if you’re in sales if you’re not cold calling in some way shape or form then you’re not doing your job. I don’t care if you put “2 cold calls” a day on there, it’s gotta be something. For responsibility sake I actually list when I can check my email because otherwise I’ll obsessively check it all day. Again, you’ve got to devise your own list and believe me, it’s going to change over time.

Category 2 – The Health, Mind, Spirit, Body Have To’s

As I said earlier, if you don’t have a sound mind and body it’s just going to make this whole process twice as difficult. That’s why I list these out in my daily planner. It’s to remind me that as much work as I have to do in the professional work, I also have to do equal amounts of work for my physical and mental being. And it doesn’t have to be a ton of stuff. For me? It’s a few main things. One of them is “Gym” or “Run for 20 minutes.” I alternate these each day. So I’ll usually do weight training one day for around 30 min, walk on the treadmill for 10 min. Then the next day I’ll just do treadmill for 20 min. This is 6 days a week with one day taking off.

Category 3 – The Personal, Around the House, Everything Else Have To’s

If you’re in a relationship that’s not going well with your spouse then you better damned well put something on your list that reminds you to do something nice with them. Perhaps it’s doing something intimate. On my weekend lists I literally put down “Sex with Lindsay” as one of my items. Why? Because it truly is that important to me to make sure that my sex life stays consistent. And if putting it on the list is what gets it done then so be it. Then there’s other things that keep me on track. Sometimes I find that a month has gone by and nothing in my house gets cleaned. So I made this rule. Clean a small part of the house 6 days a week and overall the house will stay neat, clean, and organized. Again, this is to keep me on track. You may already keep a very clean home and not find it as important as I do to make it “list worthy.” Which brings us to putting your list into perspective.

Your List and Putting the List into Perspective

Essentially I consider anything that I really know I need to do as being “list worthy.” If it’s worth printing out on a piece of paper then it’s probably worth doing. So for me, brushing my teeth isn’t something I’d put on the list because brushing my teeth is pretty much automatic. But to many of you a surprise addition to my list is eating and drinking enough water. Yes, I actually print out that I have to eat. Why? Because so often I get caught up in my work and attached to the computer screen that I don’t actually eat or drink for long periods of time. Seeing it written or typed on a piece of paper reminds me “get the hell downstairs and grab some food and drink some liquid.” For you guys, it may very well be the opposite. You might write down “don’t eat at 6pm” because for you it’s super important to watch your weight.

The most difficult task is to eventually refine your list to the point where there aren’t too many items on the list but also not too little that you’re not challenged. Also, you’re going to have to figure out what’s “list worthy” and what’s not. That will only be accomplished through time.

Here’s one more important thing you need to remember about the list. Your list is essentially the most important item that you own. Without it, you’re lost. Without accomplishing it, you’ll fail. Without consistently altering it and refining it your four R’s will simply remain instruction and not turn into habit. Which brings us to our next chapter.

There are rules to this list and here they are

I wish I could tell you that the creation of the list is all you have to do and your life will dramatically change just like that. Unfortunately that’s not how things work. Unfortunately you actually have to complete the list each day in order for things to change. Which is why I’ve decided to put together some rules to follow each day when tending to the responsibilities you create in the list. It might make things a little more manageable. The first rule in your list is: Accountability.

1 – Accountability – Only you can do this, no one else

There’s no magic here. All the support systems in the world aren’t going to make you do the tasks you set for yourself in your list. Don’t get me wrong. Having friends and family cheer you on can certainly give you a boost but in the end it’s just you, the list, and your promise of completing the tasks on it. And if you don’t complete these tasks there’s really no one to blame but yourself.
Unfortunately, accountability isn’t the most measurable thing in the world. However, with your list, it’s actually quite measurable. If you have 10 tasks to do in a day and you do 9 you were 90% accountable to yourself. Is it good that you got 90% or bad that you got 10%? Only you can make that determination.

Whether it’s a list, an email you send to yourself, honestly I don’t care, the key component to all of this is holding yourself accountable for the promises you make each day. Ultimately when an alcoholic reaches for a beverage it’s them and only them making the choice to do so. When you fail to complete a task on a list there is absolutely no one to blame but yourself. Notice I’ve used that sentence twice already in the last 30 seconds of reading. And I’ll certainly be doing it again. There’s no charity here. Your list is going to be tough to complete each day. It’s not designed to be simple.

However, there’s a silver lining to this difficulty. If you can begin to become accountable for your own actions, being accountable to others and other responsibilities becomes that much easier. But when the showdown comes, that’s what separates the men from the boys. When you’ve got to make that decision between sitting on your ass and watching television or getting off it and going to the gym, what’s it going to be?

You know when I’ve always thought the best time to go the gym is? The day and times that I least want to go. Those are the days that make the difference. It’s like practicing 100 free throws. Often times it’s taking that 101st shot the separates a good player from a great player. The same goes for your lists. What we’re actually doing here is practicing healthy habits that will in turn actually train the brain to get used to being productive. You might actually start to get antsy because you don’t feel that you’re doing enough. That’s a good thing. But let’s not go that far quite yet.

2 – Start off and continue at whatever pace you feel comfortable with

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was starting off with a list that simply had way too many items on it. The list was too overwhelming and I found myself not finishing everything up until 11 pm at night. I was relieved, proud of myself, but also completely exhausted. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back. If anything you’ve got to start off super small. Put 5 things on your list. Seriously. Take as long as you need to complete them but just get in the habit of getting everything done on that list. Even if it takes 5 minutes. Great! You still completed the list. At that point you’ll be able to make a decision on adding items or not. Something tells me you will.

3 – Getting angry with yourself – you should but for the right reasons

I used to get upset with myself because I didn’t “do enough.” Often times people with high anxiety and OCD feel they should be doing more. It’s because their brains are firing at 100mph and never stopping to relax. The funny thing however, is that the more and more that I felt I needed to do, the less it got me to do anything at all. All of a sudden things became too overbearing. I wound up becoming extremely angry with myself as well as unproductive. But after time, creating my list, and adhering to it, the “less is more” model actually proved extremely effective and I’m doing more now than ever. I’m just not doing 1 million things and giving up on every single one.

All I do is focus on my list. I do exactly what I set out to do in a day. So now when I get angry with myself it’s because I didn’t finish what was on my list. That’s a much much better reason to be angry than having not done anything at all. So get pissed. Get angry. Get emotional. But remember you need to be upset with yourself when you don’t complete your list for the DAY, not your life. And not if you don’t make a million your first time out.

4 – Your list evolves, change it up when things get stagnant

One of the things about your list is that it’s “alive.” It’s not some thing you just draw up and it stays that way forever. As you evolve, so does your list. If you become a parent do you think your daily responsibilities are going to be the same? Of course not. And that means whatever you put on your list could drastically change. But that’s completely OK. You have to constantly alter and change your list so that it fits your capabilities as well as goals you set for yourself. I’m pretty sure I’ve changed my list at least 100 times by now. Sure there are constants on it but frankly the list can get boring. You need to spice it up once it a while. Change things around. Gain new energy to complete the tasks you set for yourself.

5 – Complete your list no matter what – few exceptions

I’m someone that suffers from severe anxiety and as well as OCD. Honestly the only thing I’ve ever done in my life that helped me with these conditions was forming my daily list and completing it. And it was only after a decent amount of time that eventually I realized I wasn’t so anxious all the time. In fact, I was just too busy for the anxiety and too busy to carry out any compulsions. It took a good three months of successfully completing my list each and every day before it started to become automatic and I would even crave to do more. But you gotta get over that initial hurdle and start completing those lists. There are very few exceptions here. Sure, if there’s a death in the family, you might not complete your list that day. If you’re extremely ill, then I get it. But for the most part unless it’s one of these extreme situations you don’t have that many excuses here.

6 – In good times and in bad

If there’s ever a rule that’s important it’s this one. Lists work extremely well when you stick to them. But when things in your life aren’t going great you can’t just stop. In fact there are two rules here. When things are going well, work your lists harder and challenge yourself more. When things are going badly it’s even more crucial to stick to your list. Let me give you an example. Since I have OCD, when things are bad in my life I tend to focus on the negative. Not only do I focus on it, I dwell, and obsess about it. However, if I’m occupied with my list it gives me less time to obsess and more time to be productive. But if I’m not tending to my list then there’s a very high probability my OCD and anxiety are going to get the best of me.

How long does it take for there to be results?

If there’s anything I compare lists to it’s “The Daily Practice” by James Altucher. Altucher talks about his daily practice and the time it takes to get results. In Altucher’s practice he focuses on four things each day. There’s a physical component which says one must exercise daily in some way shape or form. There’s an emotional component which involves which people you associate yourself with. Then there’s the mental component which consists of writing down new ideas every day. And finally, the spiritual which is meditating, reading spiritual texts, or anything that involves something that’s more than yourself. If you adhere to these four things each and every day, here’s what he says:

  • A) Within about one month, I’d notice coincidences start to happen. I’d start to feel lucky. People would smile at me more.
  • B) Within three months the ideas would really start flowing, to the point where I felt overwhelming urges to execute the ideas.
  • C) Within six months, good ideas would start flowing, I’d begin executing them, and everyone around me would help me put everything together.
  • D) Within a year my life was always completely different. 100% upside down from the year before. More money, more luck, more health, etc. And then I’d get lazy and stop doing the practice. And everything falls apart again.

But now I’m trying to do it every day Does this same set of results apply when doing lists? I would say a definitive “yes.” And please remember part D. This isn’t some one step process where you magically do the list for a few weeks and life is magic. This is an ongoing process and is not meant to be easy. As soon as you start letting up, you’ll notice that life starts letting up as well.
While it’s not easy to do every task you assign yourself every single day, if you’re getting most done I can guarantee your life will be better off than having done none of your list. Nobody is perfect. I don’t know if I’ll get my list completed each day. However, when I do, I know that it works.

Do you build multiple lists?

That’s one question I’ve always been asked. Let’s say you have a goal of making $1mm in the next five years. Do you build lists only associated with that goal? The answer is, it’s totally up to you. Personally I build one big list for the day. And in some way, shape, or form all the goals I have long term as well as short term are incorporated into my daily actions. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with forming separate lists. That’s all up to you. Personally I think it might be overwhelming to have multiple lists. An important thing to note is that my list has gotten way smaller since I began this process. The reason is because I’ve begun to narrow down the things I don’t like to do in life. And if I don’t like it? I don’t do it. Or at least I try not to.

Putting it all together and some motivational words

So what is all of this actually going to achieve? Here’s where I can put in an additional 100,000 words of “proof.” You want proof this works? I am your proof. Seriously, I’m your proof. You want other proof? Here’s where I pitch my “money back guarantee” thing. Give this a week. Seriously. Give list building one week. But here are the rules for that one week. For one week you have to complete your lists every single day. No excuses, no questions. If you can realistically do that then I guarantee you will feel like that week was one of the most productive and positive weeks you’ve ever had. Even if negative things happen that week, you’ll still feel good. That’s about the best I can say but I’m positive of this. And yes, I will personally refund your money on this purchase if you think none of this worked.

So where does this leave us? Ultimately it comes down to you now. There really isn’t much I can say or do to get you to start creating lists and completing them. And frankly none of the stuff I’m telling you here is new. It’s merely to assist you in getting it all done. But as my J.V. Basketball coach always used to say “No excuses, get it done.”
But just in case you’re in need of some motivation this quote by Stephen King pretty much sums it all up as far as I’m concerned.
“Amateurs just sit around and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get to work.”

Bottom line, take action, DO something. Sitting around gets you nowhere. Having dreams is completely fine but let’s just leave those dreams at the door. I’ll leave you with this passage I wrote about finding your passion:

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that talk about finding your passion. There are even more quotes and sayings that discuss how you cannot fully be happy in your work until you are doing something you are passionate about. I’m here to tell you that this is all bull. Don’t get me wrong, doing something for a living and making money at something you like is a wonderful thing. But if trying to find what you’re passionate about prohibits you from accomplishing things in life, then you’re truly wasting your time. I cannot tell you how many times I prevented myself from doing anything because I said to myself “well, I’m not passionate about it so why bother?” Here’s the thing. I don’t have the numbers but I’m 99% positive a very very small percentage of people out there make a living doing something they love. Often times those that do make a living doing something they love make many sacrifices to do so. Some take less money. Some travel away from their families. And some wind up living in lifestyles that make their lives much more difficult than they anticipated. And let’s not forget about the people who were doing what they thought was their passion and somewhere along the lines they lost said passion for it. What about that crowd?

For all you aspiring entrepreneurs out there, let me set the record straight. Finding your passion is a great thing. But occupying your time obsessing about doing what your passionate about will get you nowhere. In fact often times it leads to excuses in one’s life for NOT doing anything. I’ve spent hours upon hours agonizing about the whole “what’s the purpose in my life?” conundrum. And after contemplation I realize those hours were all entirely wasted. I could have been doing something. But instead I was obsessing on finding the right thing. You know what that is? It’s external. It’s saying “if I find this, then I have meaning and everything is fine.” I say blah to that. Not to get too philosophical on you here but if you truly want to find your passion then it starts from the inside. It begins from knowing you have what it takes to do anything let alone what you’re passionate about. You need to prove to yourself that you’re capable of completing tasks, whatever they may be. It’s only through action, will, and accomplishing what you set out to that you will start becoming successful. And it is only through acting that you will open new doors to passions you may not have discovered otherwise. I’ll take a person who knows how to get the job done and has a constant hunger for more than one who suffers from inertia and can’t take action because they think they’re only allowed to when it’s about something they have a “passion” for. How about being passionate about yourself? You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when that’s working for you.

Best of luck!

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