Develop the Habit of List Making

by Tony Jeary

If you can develop the habit of list-making the way I describe it, I guarantee that procrastination will have no room to grow or flourish in your life. And if you can crush procrastination, your achievement level will skyrocket.

List-making, the way I practice it, is a way of life. By that I mean it is the most significant tool I use to keep my entire life together and functioning. I use it with my staff, my clients and even my gardener. If I were to stop making and using lists, my success and achievements would be significantly reduced.

My list-making system has been developed over a long period of time, as I have continually expanded the way I use it. Like most people, I started by making simple “to do” lists. I wrote down everything I needed to do on a daily basis, numbered each item and used it as a way to keep up with my tasks. As my business and my family agreed, my list-making activities grew to accommodate both. For my lists, I prefer for the most part to use the ever-trusty legal pad. I use computers and PDAs, but for me, the yellow-pad approach has an edge in three distinct features of every effective list:

  1. It is easy to review.
  2. It is immediately accessible to capture notes, make updates, mark completed items and add new items.
  3. It refreshes my memory and reinforces my priorities, as I am forced to continually rewrite the items I still need to complete.

These features are important to any list system to achieve the top four benefits of list-making that I will discuss later.

The Productive Power of Lists

I keep a master list of everything that is going on in my life, and I update it completely every 24 to 48 hours. Between updates, I make notes right on the master list. Those who use an electronic list may want to write on the printout or use Post-It'” notes to capture thoughts, ideas, changes, new tasks and completions between online updates.

When I update my master list, I have my current master in front of me, along with any Post-It notes and index cards I have accumulated since the last update. I then completely recreate my master list from scratch. In fact, I have discovered is that manually writing and rewriting my lists forces me to be aware of the things I have not yet completed. There is brainpower found in the action of physically rewriting my lists frequently. Some say this effort costs time, but I say it is a supercharger. It reveals procrastination spots and helps me focus. My master list contains every action item in which I am involved, in both my personal life and my professional life. This master list links to the “My Life” file in which I keep my personal goals.

Using a pen, I divide a single 8 x ll-inch page into enough columns and blocks to list everything I need to do, as well as the key things for which my staff members are responsible. I have a place on the list for new ideas and a place for suggestions I receive from others I talk to. Recreating lists forces us to confront items on our lists. Ideas for any of the 15 subjects that I study on a regular basis will go on the list as a reminder until I have fully incorporated each idea to the point that it is automatic in my thinking. I also include calls that need to be made, items I need to purchase, and my top priorities for the upcoming day.

How important is list-making to me?

I get up early every day, and list-making is usually the first thing I do. This process will normally take just a few minutes, but occasionally I may spend as long as two hours updating and recreating my master list. I refer to this list 5 to 20 times each day, so it is well worth investing the time to create. Considering that I do this every 24 to 48 hours, this is, admittedly, a time requirement; but I believe the benefits justify the effort. I probably spend close to 400 hours each year making my lists. That is the equivalent of 10, 4O-hour weeks! I take the use of time very, very seriously, and I very seldom waste time. I am well aware that time is our most precious asset. I even count minutes. That should tell you how important I believe listmaking is to my success.

List-making eliminates procrastination

This is, by far, the greatest benefit. I can honestly say that I rarely procrastinate (notice I did not say “never”). I do exactly the opposite, since I am always doing Things. I focus on completing things ahead of schedule, and remaking my lists manually allows me to do that. It is a rare occasion if anything ever slips through the cracks.

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