3 Tips For Masterful To-Do Lists


Here are three masterful tips to easy- to-prepare and easy-to-perform to- do lists.

1-Important v. Urgent.

Always prepare your lists based on what is important, not what is urgent. Why? Let’s define our terms.

“Important” in this context is about what matters to you. “Urgent” in this context is about what matters to others.

People have a tendency to not only assemble their lists based on the needs of other people, they get derailed by interruptions and distractions from the pressing needs of others—they get on phone calls, discussions, text-threads, or email- exchanges that take away their focus.

Sometimes these urgency-intruders can be close to you and hard to say no to—your spouse, boss, children, customers, or strangers.

The corollary tricks here are to (i) negotiate for time and space in advance, and (ii) learn to say “no.” Since you want to focus on what’s important and not on what’s urgent, it causes you much less friction to negotiate ahead of time with those who matter to you for the time and space you need to be able to focus. This keeps you from worrying about family matters when at work, and work matters when enjoying your family or leisure time.

When we are afraid in life to politely say “no” to the wrong thing, we makes ourselves unavailable to say “yes” to the right things. Those who appreciate and understand you will cooperate—those who do not will simply have to adjust.

2-Obey The Crow.

There should never be more than 7 items on your to-do list. No one can concentrate on too many things at once. To be able to focus, a person needs to be able to discern which activities or ideas are most important to him at that moment, and at any given moment a person is only able to hold, focus on, or visualize perhaps somewhere between 4 and 7.

This limitation was understood from an experiment observing a flock of crows gathered in a clearing. When various groups of men would cross the clearing and then enter the nearby woods, the crows would flee to the treetops only to return when the full number of men could be accounted for—i.e., when they felt safe.

If one man went in and then came back they would return to the clearing. If three men went into the woods and only two returned, they wouldn’t. If five men went into the woods and only four returned, they felt safe to return to the clearing. This means that the crows could only hold 3 or 4 units of the men in their focus.

For humans, the same is true but may be slightly higher. Look at a forest—you can perceive and focus on and count about 6 or 7 trees at one time, but you can never focus on or count an entire forest.

The powerful piece of knowledge here is that by using unit economy— by limiting your ideas and activities into manageable groups—you can greatly overcome these limitations and leverage your means to tackle more and more work. By breaking lists down into groups of 4 to 7 units, you can accomplish hundreds, if not thousands, of important jobs and tasks annually.

3-Dollar Signs.

The matter of deciding what should be at the top of your list should come down to the money. Money is best barometer of what you should spend your time on. Bookkeeping is an important task in business, but closing sales is significantly more important—no sales adds up to no need for bookkeeping.

Assign everything on your to do list a number of dollar signs, 5 dollar signs being the most important, and 1 dollar sign being the least important—like movie, book or restaurant ratings.

At the end of the to-do list period— whether it is a daily, weekly, monthly or annual list—you need not have completed every item, but you need to have entirely completed or accomplished the 4- and 5-star items. You would rather fully complete three 5- star items than partially complete all seven items on your list.

Money is a measuring stick for how effective you are at conducting your business—it is really the only objective means of measuring your effectiveness. Yes, there are plenty of non-monetary goals and outcomes we all want to achieve, but I assert that being profitable matters the most, and your to-do lists need to establish the mental attitude required to achieve maximum profitability. Focusing on where the money comes from strips away all of the non- essentials.

By Rob Flitton