To Do Lists – I LOVE them. I use them in my own life and I use them with clients a LOT. Clients who are starting up new businesses or clients who want to improve their work/life balance or clients who want to improve the structure of their everyday life – all sorts of reasons. I use them for every aspect of my life – personal, coaching, family, home, EVERYTHING. BUT, oh my friends, is this the end of my beloved lists? Well, sort of. It’s certainly a different way of doing things and I think it is one that will be worth working through so it becomes a new habit. And as we all know, we have to keep changing to keep progressing and growing.
So no, not mad, not turning my back on my coaching. It’s an exciting development that I have learned from an American coach called Brooke Castillo who I was introduced to recently. Brooke runs fabulous podcasts which are worth listening to but rather than just telling you to go off and listen to this podcast all by yourself and then wonder how on earth to apply it to your life, I have broken it down for you here.
First, we are asked, “How would your life look if you always stuck to your plans? Or, for some of you, even made plans to aim to stick at?”
Did you know, as humans, our brains are the only brains that can plan? That is our privilege as humans. There are several parts to our brain but what we need to remember here is we have a Pre Frontal Cortex and a Primitive part making up the planning parts of our brain.
Most of us make a lot of decisions from the Primitive part – the quick urge, ‘in the moment’ part. We are not using our Pre Frontal Cortex – the wiser, more logical part and therefore not sticking to our plans. And why do we ‘justify’ not following through with our plans? It’s because our brains are telling us it takes more effort to live by our Pre Frontal Cortex mode rather than carry on living by our Primitive brains. In order to overcome this habit, we have to PLAN AHEAD. A LOT.
So, here is what Brooke recommends we do. At the start of each week – Monday morning or whatever works for you – take a blank piece of paper (this task is better done by pen and paper rather than on computer) – and write down every single thing that you want to do or you have to do and every thing you need to do then all the things that you would really wish to do. Every single thing that pops into your brain – however random or small or enormous – put it all down on that paper. When you think you’ve finished, keep asking yourself what else there is to do. Old jobs, dull jobs, small jobs, all the unfinished business that is whirring round your brain and making you feel stressed or overwhelmed or unfocussed or unrelaxed or keeping you awake. Everything. Work, personal, family, holiday plans, long term jobs, future jobs – all on one big list. We are aiming for a Full Thought Download.
If that list seems utterly overwhelming, that’s ok because the next phase is factoring it all in. I’ve talked about and used ongoing To Do Lists in the past but this new method is going to replace that.
Once you have put everything down on your piece of paper, including stuff from your old To Do lists, throw away all your old lists. You don’t need them anymore. Creating this new list is going to take a long time so once you really think you have emptied it all out of your brain, take a short break.
Then, come back and now you are going to take a new piece of paper and list all the obstacles – the things that are stopping you from doing any of these jobs. For example, if you need to add a new page to your website but you don’t know how to, you need to book in the person who can come and do that for you. Keep going through all the things on your To Do list identifying the obstacles that are stopping you from doing them. This part of the list can be as comprehensive as you need it to be.
Now if you are thinking this all sounds great but I don’t have time to do this once, let alone every week, consider this metaphor Brooke describes. You can carry on as you are, moving from task to task and reacting to things as they jump into your mind and feeling those feelings of stress or anxiety or pressure that those mental pingers bring as if you were going on a journey on a bike and you are making progress peddling frantically which you have got quite good at. OR – you can get off the bike and get in the car and programme the SatNav and get to wherever you are heading much faster and much easier. That’s what this change can bring about. So, by making time to do this, you are making your whole time use and time management much more efficient and productive so it is really worth doing.
The next step is to look at your list of tasks and eliminate the things on your list that you really don’t want to do and really don’t have to do. It’s your decision and it’s ok to decide you are not going to do some of these things. (Remember my 3 Ds? Delay, DELETE, Delegate.)
Now – Prioritising. Looking at when things need to get done – not necessarily the urgent things but the IMPORTANT things. They should be done first. You may think that sounds counter to not over-running but if you do the process for 6 weeks, you won’t have urgent things on your list because you will be so on top of everything. For now, if you have urgent things, see if you can extend their due date.
With your prioritised list, transfer everything to your diary. So you are going to work out exactly when during the week you are going to do everything. Right down to the supermarket shop and changing the sheets. Everything. This may feel restrictive but if you then use this plan and by using the Pre Frontal Cortex part of your brain, you stick to it, you are going to end up having more free time because tasks won’t run over.
Once it’s all on your calendar or diary, throw away the piece of paper with all your jobs on.
How do you know how much time to give something? Well, I think this will improve the longer you plan your life like this but basically by doing this you are living in a deliberate mode not a default mode so you will be saying, “I need to write this report” or “I need to make this amount of food for the weekend” and will be planning how much time you are going to allocate to it and sticking to that. You will want to work more efficiently so you can stick within your programme and not end up having to finish things off in your free time. As new tasks come in during the week, you are automatically going to factor those in when you genuinely have the time to do them. Your planning is going to be realistic rather than fire fighting.
This may all seem a bit complicated but I think the more we practise this the easier and more flowing it will be. We will start using our Pre Frontal Cortex much more and overcoming those Primitive urges to, for example, go on social media and not file those papers etc etc. We all know what I’m talking about!
SO, if you want to give this a go, I’d love to hear how you get on. I’m not sure what the great diarists would think of it – Samuel Pepys, James Lees Milne and the like – they’d probably turn in their graves at the thought of diaries becoming so structured and admin based but life is different now and we are busy in a different way. So we must plan our lives accordingly and if this method can help us use our time efficiently and take the constant whirring and panic chatter out of our minds, then I am all for it.