Nothing gets done just by writing it down
For anyone who’s interested in productivity, rule number one is to move ideas and information out of their head and into a purpose-built system (unlike, say, the brain). Keep in mind, though: capture doesn’t equal action.
Like any tool, a list only works if used right
Everyone who’s ever attempted to implement any sort of productivity methodology, a.k.a. ‘get organized’, knows you’re bound to end up with… a list. Or, dreadfully, ‘the list’. Or several of them, depending on your particular taste and preference with regard to how you organize things. Don’t get me wrong: lists are great, even if they can be tedious life companions. Writing things up and actually doing them are two very different things, however, and the former doesn’t necessarily set the latter in motion.
One of the acute dangers of relying on lists is the fact that if you learn to trust them to keep your information, you free up mental resources. Dangers, you say? Isn’t this supposed to be a benefit? In a word: maybe. The problems begin when you’ve successfully made a habit of capturing the things you need to do on lists and then fail to implement the next logical step: going through every single list in your possession on a recurring basis to make sure your gut tells you what’s next. Checking, the rechecking. Reorganizing. Reprioritizing.
Beginner’s mistakes aren’t reserved for beginners
Two other common mistakes which occur when people are starting out with lists are to not categorize their contents in an appropriate manner, and to put overly large rocks on there. Tackling the issue of categorization first, a basic approach to lists dictates that your notes are either reference information – as in information which may or may not be required at a later time, and actual tasks – as in things that need to be carried out. Bear in mind, though: not only beginners are prone to such errors.
If you mix reference information and tasks, it’s easy to be quagmired with having to remember which is which, so do yourself the favour and keep at least two separate lists for this purpose.
Rock cutting is serious business
Second, and more importantly for getting moving on the tasks that you have, you should avoid putting big rocks on your list. ‘Spring cleaning would be a good example’; it’s actually a collection of numerous smaller tasks that, when handled separately, are a breeze to accomplish. The problem is that every time you see spring cleaning on a list instead of ‘buy mop’, your brain reacts in much the same way as a deer caught in a pair of headlights. It doesn’t know exactly what to do, so it does… nothing.
Fortunately, there’s a better alternative than succumbing to panic: sit down, hammer and chisel in hand, and start chipping away patiently until you’re left with rocks the size of which you can juggle like nobody’s business.
Simple? Perhaps. Obvious? Let’s just say I’ve presented this to enough people to know that a good facepalm often is in order when they realize what they’ve been doing.