Raise your hand if you’ve ever written a list of actionable tasks, only to slump over your desk, discouraged, without even starting. I found a way to avoid this. Recently, I started making a special to-do list.
Yes, the candle is required. Just kidding.
1. Your first task should be whatever gives you energy to tackle the rest of the tasks.
Working out gives me energy, and I don’t give myself long enough to think about whether I want to. I take advantage of my morning brain fog, grab a banana, and get right to it. After that, I make a real breakfast (whoever calls bananas a real breakfast needs a stern talking-to).
2. I looked at my life goals and thought about how today’s goals get me one step closer to accomplishing them. For example, I’m learning Spanish because a company that I want to be a vendor for in the future likes their employees to speak more than 2 languages. What convinced me to make a to-do list was the knowledge that this to-do list was essential for my future.
3. You should always make to-do lists in order of priority. I make my lists in blocks of three. That way, even if I do only the first three tasks, they are my most important ones. After working out, I scored and summarized 4 assessments. Then, I edited my book.
4. Schedule the things you dislike (such as editing) first. My book, Half and Half, is finished. I can credit long bus rides in LA traffic for this feat. You know what I like least about writing? Editing. But first drafts are never great (trust me, the first literary agent who looked at my book said about as much). So, I put editing in the top 3 tasks.
After the first 3 tasks, you could always make it a Bare Minimum Day, but I was determined to get through more of my list. Next, I needed to apply to a scholarship. One of the recommendation letters for this scholarship is from a brilliant professor. He is a bit intimidating. It’s gotten to the point where I see his emails (which are overwhelmingly kind, mind you) and don’t open them. I want my responses to be polished and perfect because I have so much respect for him. The result? I procrastinated opening this email for 4 days. I opened it. His letter was possibly the nicest thing I’ve ever read in my life. I printed both recommendation letters, wrote the scholarship essay, included my transcripts, and sealed it all in a manila envelope.
Then! I got a call! from a grad school! It was an acceptance! (I’m not going to say to where, but I am going to say that I am excited, in case the exclamation points did not clue you in). This meant, of course, that I had to have an hour-long conversation with everyone in my immediate family, squeal on the phone while talking with the director of admissions (the time for playing it cool is over), and generally have a good time.
5. Prepare for the unexpected; the things on your to-do list won’t all be accomplished, and that isn’t a bad thing.
Like I said, the grad school thing took about an hour. Unless you know that you will be accepted into a grad program at a particular time on a particular day (and if you do, I want to know which one!) you obviously can’t plan for it. But after my phone calls, it was business as usual. I went back to my to-do list and am happy to report success. I worked for Continuity Care, spent about 20 minutes learning Spanish using an app called Speak Tribe (it’s kind of addicting), and then the day was finished.