Why you need a to do list AND an action list!

Generally speaking, to-do lists are great. They are about the easiest way to get organised and everyone loves the feeling of crossing (or ticking) off an item! They are a great place to store the things we want to do and the things we don’t want to forget to do.

But what happens when your life becomes a series of to-do lists. Each one longer than the last, to the point where thinking about them sets your heart racing, you start to ignore your lists and nothing gets done.

That’s where an action plan comes in.

Yes it is still a to-do list but with a few twists. The items on it, come from your to-do lists, and there are only three, maybe five at absolute most, action items for the day. These are the things you need to do to move forward. Ask yourself. What are the three most important things I could do today? You may even find that these things are not even on your to-do list but still floating around inside your head.

Action list items are very specific. Instead of having ‘Implement Systems’ which might be on your to-do list, your action plan will be task related. Brainstorm business departments, map out client flow, choose documentation software. These items should take you less than an hour. If not, break them down more. All of a sudden, completing these items is seen as way more achievable then if you were to look at ‘Implement Systems’. You may even feel some form of excitement knowing that it is something you are able to cross off (does anybody else get excited hearing that dinging noise or putting a line through your notes!).

This applies to your personal life as much as it does business. I know that my personal to-do list is almost as long as my business one. And quite often gets pushed aside for business items. But adding one each day into my action list is slowly shrinking my to-do’s. Sometimes, the thought of just doing it is worse than the actual task. ‘Sort out school’ suddenly becomes call the school, locate birth certificate, fill in enrolment paperwork, ask for recommendations on before and after school care. All little tasks that may take 5 to 10 minutes. Much more achievable than ‘sort out school’.

So why does this work?

Simple. Little things add up to big things. We all know this but we get so caught up in either the big picture goal we haven’t yet achieved or all the things on those to do lists are so overwhelming, that we forget about the progress that has already been made.

  • Action lists force you to prioritise. We all want to do everything and we all want it done yesterday. It’s hard to admit to ourselves that it’s just not possible. With an action list, you can only include a small number of things that are relatively short to complete. This way you are forced to decide what is most important to get done today.
  • Action lists give you momentum – over time you will learn to only include things that you can actually get done. If your day is filled with interruptions and more urgent tasks, start with just one action item. Just make sure it is something of value and that will help move you one step closer to your goals.
  • Action lists get you focused on today. It doesn’t matter what you have planned for the future, or what you didn’t achieve yesterday. An action list will force you to state what you will do today. With such a short list, it is much easier to focus on getting those tasks done.

Call it what you like!

Personally, mine has no name. It’s just a bullet point list, that is scribbled on a post-it note at the start of each day, stuck to the side of my computer screen and then disposed of once all items are crossed off. Nothing beats that feeling of having everything crossed off and being free to dedicate your attention to the rest of your day.

Do your to-do lists work for you? How do you choose what you are going to accomplish for the day? Love to know your thoughts! You can get in touch with me via Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or good old email.

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