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How to create a to do list that you’ll actually get done

Before you accomplish your goals, you obviously have to set them, right? You may think that setting a goal is simple, but there is a strategy behind doing so to help you get closer to achieving them by focusing on how you set them; let me explain.

To do lists

Let’s talk about to do lists and how they can help us to understand the strategy behind setting goals the right way. People typically set to-do lists in a very instinctive way – – for the simple purpose of writing down the tasks they need to accomplish – putting them down on a list on paper without a certain order.

Recent research has proven that our willpower is a finite resource. In fact, as we progress on our journey, the amount of willpower slowly reduces. You know this feeling. A lack of motivation at a certain part of your day after doing something very demanding or coming home after work with the only wish of sitting down and relaxing.

The solution is to apply this principle of willpower by creating a  prioritized to do list.

If you put your most important task of the day first, you can profit from the full willpower you need and spend it on the most important things you want to achieve, right?

The method has been proven to be quite effective and I would recommend you to use it daily.

to do list - white board man

Limited willpower.                                                       

The concept of limited willpower does not only apply on a day scale; you can think of a week or a month, and there is still a relevant pattern that we can observe.

There is a very interesting link between this and procrastination, as our brain is unconsciously calculating the work and willpower a task will need, so we often fear to do it and delay that task. This is why procrastination is such a major issue. We delay our task to later, and when it comes time, we have no choice but to do it, even though our willpower is already consumed. Therefore, we are not able to deliver our best performance.

Let’s take the example of the student with an essay to write in a week. Student one writes the essay on the first day with a rested mind; student two writes it the night before in rush after a week of extenuating work. Who will get a better grade? It will be student two of course, depending on many factors such as his skills of course, but let’s admit that student one has the odds in his favor. 

How to apply it.

Now, how do you apply this concept to your life? What is the simplest yet most efficient way we could do this in our lives while avoiding procrastination and spending the right time on the right things? I recommend  a mix of prioritized to do lists and an old technique once used in factories.

The factory example.

In the book Willpower, authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney showed the results from experiments that they conducted over the years as psychologists to understand the inner workings of willpower. They explain the example of a wise factory manager named Patzer, who used a particular technique to get his worker to become more effective.

‘’We simply ask our managers and other workers to set their top goals for the week, you can’t have more than three goals, and it’s fine if you have less than three. Each week, we go over what we did last week, and whether we met those goals or not, and then each person sets the top three goals of this week. If you only get goals one and two done, but not three, that is fine, but you cannot go off working on other goals until you’ve done the top three. That is it- that is how we manage; it is simple, but it forces you to prioritize, and it is rigorous.’’

People at the time did not know about prioritized work as we do now, but it must have boosted the factory productivity in a significant way.

The three weekly goals.

Every week, spend a few minutes defining what your top goals are for the week, write them down and don’t forget to put the most important in the first position, then the second in importance in the second, and then the third.

Focus on spending most of your energy on the first goal and then go on to the next one. Now that you are aware, be wise and use your willpower in a smart way!

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