You can’t just have dreams, you have to do something about making them happen. You must get up, leave the cave, hunt something down, kill it, drag it back to the cave, cook it, and then you get to eat.

Dave Ramsey, Business and Financial Coach, 1960–

Prioritized Daily Task Lists

Are you going to get the right things done today?

One of the rites of passage when my sisters and I started seventh grade was getting our own planner. Our parents would take us down to the Franklin Quest store and let us pick out our own binder and pages. In addition to the standard kit, we would also get the student pack, which had special forms for tracking homework assignments and class schedules.

We would sit down and plan the week as a family each Sunday night. I learned the importance of daily planning by watching my parents set aside a few minutes early in the morning to review the day. They showed us how to see the day in the context of the week (and the week in context of the month, etc) and prepare not just for today but for the coming days, as well.

I don’t know how my sisters felt about it, but I absolutely loved it. Don’t get me wrong—I was still a teenager, and I would still procrastinate on homework, but the foundation they had laid allowed them to have different conversations than most parents probably do. “Can I go to the movies?” “Have you finished your A tasks for the day?” …and I knew they had me. And they knew it.

I used a Franklin planner from junior high until 2010, when the iPad was released. Now, my tools are (mostly) digital. Yours probably are, too. But a prioritized daily task list is still one of the most powerful tools you have to get things done.

Photo courtesy of © Colter Reed

Task Expiration Dates

Go take a look in your fridge.

What do you see? Be sure to look at the things that are always there—things that you’ve trained yourself to look right past when you’re looking for a snack.

There’s yogurt you just picked up at the store, leftovers from the last few nights (or longer), and condiments that were picked up before the last presidential election. Your freezer probably goes back even farther.

Each of these came into the fridge with hope and excitement, full of possibility and potential. Then you went to the store again. New food, new leftovers, and a new bottle of French’s yellow mustard. What was already in there got pushed to the back and forgotten about.

The same thing is happening on your task list. Especially if it’s digital.

©iStockphoto/michaklootwijk

Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change, and the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.

Peter Drucker, Author and Management Consultant, 1909–2005

Focusing on the Visible Horizons

How many major projects can you see coming down the road?

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time driving Interstate 80 across Wyoming. I knew every dip and rise. I knew where the highway patrol usually hung out. I knew where I would need to switch radio stations to pick up the next Wyoming Public Radio affiliate, and where the dead zones were. When Audible came on the scene, it really helped to smooth those out.

One trick I developed was to break the trip into horizons. At the top of one ridge, where I could see for several miles, I’d start tracking the distance to the next horizon. Some of them were short and could be travelled in two or three minutes. The longer ones would take twenty or thirty. I developed a sincere appreciation for the ’78 Pontiac Phoenix that was whisking me quickly through the elements that 19th-century pioneers trudged through.

Breaking up the drive like that helps keep it manageable and make it go by more quickly. Breaking up the work ahead of you the same way will help you stay on top of things and not get overwhelmed, but you do need to keep the whole route in mind.

Photo courtesy of © iStockPhoto / Pgiam

Why You Should Write Down What You Need to Do

Your head is a terrible place to keep your task list.

A few weeks ago, I took one step down one of productivity’s slippery slopes: not writing down what I needed to do.

It started innocently enough. One task. It was important, so I was going to take care of right then. About an hour, then I’d be back to the list.

Before I knew it, it was Saturday. I hadn’t look at OmniFocus all week. One ad hoc task after another had crept in, and I’d spent the entire week keeping track of what I was doing in my head. I’d gotten a lot done, but very little of it was the stuff that I needed to get done that week. And I still had a dozen things to do before I could even back to what I was supposed to do.

There was only one thing to do: what I should have been doing all long.

Photo courtesy of © iStockPhoto / ScantyNebula