The first thing on your to-do list should be making a to-do list.
A handy to-do list can help you get organized, separate important tasks from trivial distractions, and give you more time at the end of your day to read advice on time management. Here are ten simple steps to get you started.
1. Think Big
Your dreams should be so big that they require their own plane tickets. You should be able to make the floorboards creak with your mind. Think so big that you rip your pants. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. If you don’t care enough about it to put it on your to-do list, you probably don’t deserve to have it.
In the planning stages, it’s important to go buck-wild. Promise yourself the moon with stars sprinkled on top. Make a list of the twenty things you most want out of life, and then add twenty more things. Don’t forget to add all the things you should do, such as flossing your cat, along with the things you don’t really enjoy but want to be seen doing, such as complementing other people’s children. Put it all in there.
Make your to-do list a living document, and keep giving yourself new things to do until all of it is done.
2. Get Going
Now you’re off to the races! You have a whole lot of work ahead of you, and it’s important to not get overwhelmed. Start with the first, most important thing, say, getting your shoes tied. Hey, that was easy! Now you’re laced up and on your way out the door. The world better watch out, because you’ve got big plans. You’ve got such big plans that it’s hard to keep track of them, but fortunately you’ve got a to-do list.
3. Determine What Really Matters
Painstaking prioritization is one of the best alternatives to doing things.
Before you move on to tackle item number two on your list, take stock of your priorities. You can’t do everything at once because you’re not a machine(Robots don’t get adult acne). You’re a person with a to-do list, and one of the things on your to-do list is to practice mindfulness. So be mindful of what really matters to you.
Of all the tasks you’ve set out to complete, which do you need to do? Which do you want to do? Which best exemplify who you are as a person and what’s in your heart of hearts? Rearrange the list like a symphony to harmonize with a mindful awareness of your priorities. Now lay it over a disco beat and get pumped.
It’s been a week since you started on item number two and things aren’t going too well. You bought the Lego set. You read the instructions and you put a few pieces together, but the project has been sitting on the kitchen table for days, and you’ve been eating in front of the television to avoid looking at it.
You tried meditation, which wasn’t very productive at all — you probably weren’t doing it correctly. You took some vitamin supplements to boost your energy and you ended up with less money and more colorful urine. You’ve been lazy and useless, and you haven’t even been able to enjoy it.
You notice that your shoe has come untied, and you have no idea what to do about it.
5. Sabotage Yourself
If you were being brutally honest with yourself, you would admit that you’re half-assing it because the idea of pouring your soul into a project and failing scares you more than the idea of not doing it at all. If you never write your first book, no one will ever read it or love it, but at least you won’t have to deal with one-star reviews from idiots. “Let’s not and say we did,” is what the kids say, and the kids are the best judge of anything. You cross item two off the list, confident that you could have done a hell of a job at it had it been worth your time and trouble.
6. Fail Completely and Bitterly
What started as a low murmur of self-doubt now crescendos into a chorus of self-loathing. You’ll never get through your to-do list because you’re not smart or tough enough to finish your chores, honor your commitments to yourself, or obtain the things you want in life. You are, simply put, weak.
Most of us feel this way sometimes, because, except for a few CEOs and celebrities, we all suck and should probably give up. Your life isn’t worth much if you can’t compete with the guy who came up with Snapchat.
7. Give Up
Now you are free to fall apart. You are at liberty to do all of the things that would have previously brought you shame. Now, you are fish and shame is the water in which you swim.
So, give up. Quit your humiliating dead-end job. Drink until your sweat eats through paint. Toast dumpster bagels over a trash can fire. Life is suffering, as the Buddhists say, and the path through suffering is greased with Everclear.
Keep sinking until you break through the bottom and land in the abandoned basement. Rediscover shame as the last few people who love you have to come in and clean up your mess.
8. Revise Your To-Do List
Start with one basic thing, like tying your shoes. Do that one basic thing every day.
Do something that seems simple to some people but that you find challenging, like, oh, feeding yourself. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but I once spent 72 hours curled up in my bed, had a pizza delivered, and could not eat the pizza because of anxiety. If I had just eaten one piece of pepperoni, I probably would have felt better and that would have been progress. Start with one pepperoni.
Do that one basic thing until it becomes a habit. Then, and only then, consider adding a second basic thing to your to-do list. Add new basic things as you can handle them, and no sooner. Get in the practice of building habits for their own sake.
9. Get Bored
Soon enough, you will feel better. You’ll get a boost in morale from all of that successful pepperoni-eating and shoe-tying. As you reassemble the fragments of your shattered life, you have some time to rest and reflect, and that rest, more than anything else, is helping a lot.
Now you wonder what you’re missing, out there in the dangerous and exciting world. You feel ready to go out and conquer it, or at least go on a crazy and colorful adventure. You are, simply put, bored. And you fear that all of this rest is making you rusty. There is so much you are capable of, so many goals you want to pursue.
So you start making a list…
Now you are right back where you started. Progress!
As you can see, a to-do list doesn’t have to be simply an inventory of tedious tasks. A good to-do list is a recipe for adventure and delight, along with harrowing terror. When you get good at making to-do lists, you will get used to the insane mood swings that come with them. Start making your to-do list today, and don’t be surprised if you learn a lot about yourself in the process.
If you wind up exhausted and humiliated, you may find that you prefer using a productivity app.