When I worked in the corporate world (can you even imagine that?), I would keep a running to-do list on a legal pad. Each day, I would work through the list until it was “quitting time” and, whatever was left on the list would get transferred to a fresh piece of paper as the start of my to-do list for the next day.
That method worked well when my job was over the minute I left the office to start my commute home. I was never nagged by what was undone. My work very rarely came home with me.
Since I started my own business, I’ve used the same method of keeping a running to-do list. It seemed like a good business practice.
Here’s the problem… my running to do list made me feel like there were never enough hours in the day and like my work day couldn’t end until everything was crossed off. I rarely felt like, even after packed-full, highly productive days, my effort was enough.
Isn’t it silly that a list on a piece of paper can do that? I was letting it drive me and override decisions that should’ve been made, like I need to close the computer while I’m helping the boys with homework or I need to stop to eat or it’s 1:00 in the morning and it’s way past appropriate or sane business hours.
While on my creative retreat, I heard an idea presented on a couple of different podcasts – instead of having a long list of things to do, set a daily goal of three things. If the rest of the day is completely useless, what are the three things that need to get done? Or should get done? Or it would just be really nice to have done?
The first time I heard this advice, I didn’t put much weight it. Three things. Okay. Got it. I’ve got my lists and I can do way more than three things in a day. Like being busy is a badge of honor to be proudly displayed along with my dark circles and paint-splattered sweatpants.
But, then I heard it again, framed in some more detail about why it works and how it can actually increase productivity. I’ve said a similar thing in a different way in regard to home and creative projects, “Give yourself success in small things and you’ll be excited to do more.”
It was certainly worth a try.
So, last week I started each day with a list of just three things.
The Big Three.
Here’s what I learned…
- I was laser focused to get those three things done, so most days I had my three things done before lunch. (And that was a after exercise and a shower.) Then, it felt like I had all the time in the world. I could paint or run errands or do some paperwork, answer e-mails, take Sebastian for a walk, read a magazine or art book. Suddenly, my day didn’t seem so tightly packed. There was breathing room, margin.
- I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I didn’t go to bed thinking about all of the things I didn’t get to. I didn’t work until my brain and body protested. A few times, I actually had to remind myself that my work was done and I could go to bed. Yes, even if it’s only 10:00.
- It made me look ahead to due dates, commitments, and take care of things that were a priority, before they become urgent.
- I could schedule time to work on things that aren’t pressing, but they are important to me. How will I work on new projects and nurture new ideas if I’m always busy with everything that’s on my plate right now?
- A pile of work isn’t overwhelming when it’s boiled down to three things that need to be done. It helped me see that a lot of things I viewed as urgent really weren’t urgent at all.
I’m still ironing out the kinks and settling into my new schedule, but last week was a big encouragement for me.
Have you ever tried working off of a three-item to-do list?