Master Life by Listing Your Thoughts

Keeping things in your head is an inefficiency. Why? Think about it-or rather-write about it. How many times have you thought something through, only to go back to it and find it is no longer thought through? If you don’t ink it when you think it, you’ll lose and can’t use it.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed or like you lack focus? Well, imagine opening every program you have in Windows when you turn on the computer. You would run slowly and sluggishly and might crash. It is the same when you try to keep everything in your head. You’ll forget it, be overloaded by it, stress out over it, or keep someone else from getting to it. How many interruptions are caused by people trying to get at things that can only be found in YOUR head?

Why don’t we write things down? Many people say it takes too long, but if you count the minutes, it always takes longer NOT to write things down than it ever takes to write them. As a case in point, consider someone who doesn’t write a to-do list but instead keeps her to-dos in her head. She still has to think at the beginning of the workday, “What do I need to do today?” If she wrote it down at that moment, it might take five to ten extra minutes, but she doesn’t. When she finishes the first task, if she had written her list she could have crossed the first task off and quickly moved to the next (and doesn’t it feel good to cross something off a to-do list). Not having written it down, however, she now has to think again, “What next?” So it goes between each task. By the end of the day, the person who did not write the tasks down spends a lot more time on the unwritten list that would ever have been spent writing.

The suggestion is for you to create a master to-do list. A master list is a “parking lot” where you put things that come to mind that you don’t want to think about now or don’t know what to do with.

Write down everything that comes to mind in chaotic order, including the “junk.” Our mind is chattering constantly. On your way to work you probably took on 20 to-dos: “I wonder what the temperature is supposed to be today.” “Where is my favorite shirt; I haven’t seen it this week?” “Is there a ball game tonight?” “Do those blind spot mirrors really work?” “How much does it cost to put an ad on a billboard, do they do it weekly, monthly, or annually?” “I haven’t played tennis in awhile, I ought to get my racket out of the garage . . .” The human brain doesn’t know the difference between an important and a trivial thing, so your mind takes on all of these as to-dos and distracts you with them all day. You can let go of these trapped thoughts by writing them down. When your brain is convinced they can be found elsewhere, it stops haunting you.

Think of your master list as a warehouse, a distribution center that sends tasks off to the place they need to go as the time comes. As soon as an item gets a deadline, cross it off and move it to a calendar. Things due today go on today’s to-do list, which is the one you actually work from. Many items will stay on the master list indefinitely. That’s okay; at least they are not taking up valuable processing space in your brain.

At this point people ask, “How many lists do you expect me to have?” My answer is . . . one. Consider having only today’s to-do list and having only the amount of work you can do today on it. While you’re working on today’s list, you will discover things due in the future. Write those on future daily lists and get back to today’s. When you become distracted by things that have no deadline or that you don’t know what to do with, write them on the master list-this is all to help you keep focused on today’s list.

In the choice between keeping work and personal life on the same list and separating them, consider whether you will pay attention to the personal list at all or get carried away on the work. Might it be that having something from our personal life on the work list motivates you to work more effectively?

Keep an ideas (some day maybe . . . it would be nice if . . .) sheet where you can keep track of books, movies, restaurants, places, and things you would like to look into.

Work with a mobile list to allow you to capture thoughts as you move through the day and to get some sleep at night.

Write delegated tasks on an assignment sheet.

If something is bothering you, write it down too. Emotions dissipate when you move them from head to list. The mind is ruled by emotion, we are more objective in ink. People also take things more seriously when they are in writing.

If you are assigned tasks from multiple parties, keep track of these on a list so they can see in writing how busy you are. Not only are they more likely to believe you, they will not be upset with you when they are not happy about the information. People tend to take things out on or “shoot” the messenger, which is this case is the list.

You may experience resistance to listing everything as suggested here. Please consider, though, that writing it will take less time, keep you focused, keep others from interrupting, keep emotions at bay, and keep track. Clear your head, clear your emotions, keep tasks clear, and steer clear of others. Master life with a master list.

Sherry Prindle, MA, CCP
Master Coach Trainer
Instant Consultant and Trainer
Seminar Leader Fred Pryor and CareerTrack seminars
Co-Author 15 Winning Ways to Better Living
President Sherry Prindle Communications
Lifelong learner living in the moment and breaking out into song and dance at the daily adventure of it all
Fluent in Japanese and Russian

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