the daily list-making routine that insures I never run out of ideas
I’m a total list person. Writing something down, whether on a post in, my planner, or in my phone, is how I solidify ideas, keep track of my ideas, and organize all the millions of things I manage. Over the years I’ve made my list in a bunch of different ways, but there are three lists that have become the basis of running my life and business.
Even though it’s three different lists, they each serve a purpose that allows me to do more with less time. I wanted to share my system with you today, because one of the most common questions I get is “how do you manage it all?” I think my super easy list building system is a huge part of that answer.
Three Daily To-Dos
Ironically, this is the one I struggle with the most, but it’s also the one that I think is the most important. I usually roughly plan out the coming work week at the very end of the prior work week, or on Sunday if things get crazy. That gives me a good big picture idea of what I still need to accomplish and what new things are coming my way. Then at the beginning of each work day, I give my day a bit more structure based on that bigger picture planning.
I used to plan out what I was going to do each hour, but I quickly realized how one small bump could totally derail my whole day. And then I felt bad about how much I didn’t get done, and it just sort of snowballed through the rest of the week.
So I started reading more about productivity, procrastination (my nemesis), and organization, and I read this awesome advice in a terribly named book - Eat That Frog - about how you should start every day with your “frog” task. The one thing you’re likely to procrastinate the most on.
And it clicked.
By tackling that one thing first, the whole rest of my day felt lighter, and I was getting so much more done. Then I read some advice about having no more than 3 things to work on at any given time. So I combined this idea, and rather than planning hourly or even in chunks of time, I plan with a list of three things every day.
On my list today? Exactly three client names, each with a specific task or small set of tasks that I plan on accomplishing with my time today, and the first one is my “frog” task - the one I’m procrastinating for whatever reason, or the one that is the biggest to accomplish. And that’s it. Just those three things.
In actuality, I’ll probably get more done than just these three things, but this is what I start with. And then if I do have extra time, I move on to my braindumping list.
An Ongoing Braindumping List
This is my secret weapon against “squirrel brain” - which is this idea I read about once where our brains are going a mile a minute and distracted by all things shiny. Especially when I’m struggling with productivity and procrastination to start with, every little thing that distracts me suddenly becomes something I have to do RIGHT NOW. And then I look up, hours later, and realize that I haven’t actually done anything, because I kept chasing those squirrel brain ideas and dashing here and there.
So I got around it by starting a braindumping list. Basically, I always have a notebook on hand with an ongoing list, seperate from my daily three to-dos. And every time one of those squirrel thoughts pop into my head, I write it down. Then when I have time, once my three things are done, I come back to that list and only then choose something and do it.
Not only does this keep me focused on my three main things, but every single time I go to that list ready to work on those things, I end up completely crossing things off without even doing them, because I realize that they aren’t important or necessary. But if I had followed it immediately, I would have wasted a ton of time on ideas that aren’t good, necessary, or helpful. And sometimes there are good important things on that list - but by giving it a little space I can better judge what’s necessary and what was a distraction.
A Daily Brainstorming Ideas List
The final list I try and make every day is a relatively new one I’ve added to my system, after reading the book Choose Yourself. The author suggests making an ideas list every single day, as a way of stretching your brain and giving it a healthy mental workout. So now I have a dedicated spot in my notebook where I challenge myself to come up with a list of 10-20 ideas related to something that’s on my mind.
Sometimes it’s something I know will be useful to my business, like marketing ideas. Sometimes it’s something that I think will be useful in my family life, like dinner ideas. And sometimes it’s totally random things like the one I made when Anthony Bourdain died, on things he taught me.
Some lists I never look at again, others I refer back to constantly when looking for new ideas on blog topics or whatever. But even just the act of working my brain like this for a few minutes each morning is like magic. I swear my brain just works better for the rest of the day. And I’ve been doing this for a few months now, which means I have a notebook full of golden (and not so golden) ideas that I can access anytime.
You may find that my three lists are just the thing you need to get you back on track, or getting more done in less time. Or it might be just the springboard you need to finding your own ways of organizing your thoughts for the day. Either way, I really encourage you to find a simple system that works for you, and then stick with it. You are the only advocate for your business, and the only one driving it to succeed. Get your own mind calmed, ordered, and systemized, and you’ll accomplish more without adding more hours to your day.