You had the best of intentions. You meant to complete those tasks. With pen and paper you wrote them done, in order. But at the end of the day they went undone. Why? For many of us the to do list is a regular, if not daily, habit. We think of the things that we need to do and we write them down in a list. We may even list them in priority. And we do get some checked off. But at the end of the day we still have many items unchecked.

There are several problems with the to do list. For one the very act of listing the tasks feels like an accomplishment and we feel our tasks are already done. Or we feel so overwhelmed by the length of the list that we don’t know where to start or if we can complete any so we stop with listing.

We often are not specific about what needs to be done. We list ‘work on task A’ but leave it undefined as to when, where, how, etc. We don’t list a deadline because we really don’t know how long it will take and we don’t want to restrict ourselves. We don’t list a first action because we haven’t thought that far. Perhaps we think it will magically get down with no effort from us other than listing it.

It is important to do some brainstorming about what we need to do. But it is also important to make those actions concrete so that we know specifically what we need to do and so that we can know when we have completed it. It is important to analyze a problem and plan how we will begin to attack it. But it is also important to step out and begin.

For each item on our to do list we need to identify why it is important, what the priority is, when we need to begin and complete it, and what is the first step (or steps) to do. Sometimes we may have prerequisites – things that must be done first. Just like in college before you take an advanced class you must take a basic course so that you will have the knowledge to understand the advanced teaching. If you are going to travel to a foreign country for vacation you would need to arrange flights and housing and make sure you have the appropriate currency, for instance.

Some of the overwhelmingness of a list may be lessened if you have a first step that is simple, that will get your feet started. Inertia is stated this way “things at rest tend to stay at rest, things in motion tend to stay in motion”. If you are hesitating, being at rest, you will tend to stay at rest – no forward motion. If you can get yourself in motion, through that first step, you can achieve forward motion and thus inertia will help you to remain in motion, going forward.

Ask yourself “can I finish this task now? If yes, then do it. If not, then ask yourself “is there something I need to do first?” Then do that thing. Everything on the list needs to be an actionable item. Even if it is just researching about what you need to know to do a specific task. Like learning a foreign language so that you can ask questions and understand the answers when you travel abroad.

Everything on a to do list should be an action item, a task that needs to be done. Not a vague list of “want to”, “shoulds”, or “dreams”. And it needs to have time limits, so that it doesn’t just slide into the next day and the next. It doesn’t mean that you have to get it all done today. But you should have deadlines and specific actions that you can do daily or at least try to do. Otherwise it becomes a laundry list of vague obligations with no sense of success. And for that very reason it must be short and specific..

This week I would like to explore the setting and achieving of goals and how we can achieve that. I have not always been a goal oriented person but I know that when I set and achieve goals there is immense satisfaction. I want you to experience the same. Let’s examine our practices and grow together.