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Turning a to-do list into actual productivity

How throwing away your to-do list and picking up a calendar will optimize productivity.

A couple of years ago I read something from Ariana Huffington about the value of taking things permanently off your to do list if they were never going to get done or no longer served you. Generally speaking, the lesson was simple, but it’s impact had the potential to be profound for those of us (like myself) constantly bogged down mentally with all of the things we were going to get to someday…

Learn French for when I apply for that job in Paris. Start a local networking group for composting, or cat hat knitting or something. Get to copyrighting that great new invention I thought of two years ago. A list so long, of things that were either not important, not realistic or just not ever going to be a priority. 

This list existed for me for years. Then, early in my twenties after reading Ariana’s article, I started taking her advice to heart and getting rid of projects that, while they seemed fun in my head, were never going to manifest in reality. And Ariana was right – I did have more energy and felt so much more free! 

Of course, as to-do and project lists always do, it started to grow quietly again over the months, with newfound interests and line items that were intent on taking the place of the old ones thrown in the to-do list trashcan years before. But fortunately, as I got older, these projects mattered more to me; they felt more tied to what I believed to be my purpose on this Earth and weren’t only self-serving; many of my new projects had the intent to serve the greater good. 

So I wanted to find a way to accomplish them, in the middle of work and ultra-marathon training and family and significant others and everything else. That’s when realized (through another article) the value of a calendar when it comes to getting things done in the midst of the busyness of life. 

Now I religiously follow these two simple but major philosophies to keep my productivity moving forward. 

Step 1: Delete, Delete, Delete

As mentioned, this theory comes directly from Ariana Huffington herself:

Delete all the things from your to-do list that you know you are never going to get to.

Housework, bills, and sending check-in emails to family members you haven’t talked to in awhile…those things are worth keeping. One hour per day French lessons, learning to play the ukulele and taking the steps necessary to befriend Ryan Reynolds? Those are never going to happen. And simply removing them from your to-do list does wonders to remove the anxiety you feel about not ever working on them in the first place. 

 Step 2: Calendar, Calendar, Calendar

There are few to no (successful) people in the 21st Century, that get by without some sort of calendar system. There are simply too many appointments and too many things to remember for a calendar to not be a necessary part of life for the average, modern professional. 

As a result, we put things on our calendar that are important; meetings, deadlines, phone calls, etc. Once something goes on a calendar, it must be acknowledged. It’s been made a priority. 

Because calendars, unlike to-do lists, create priorities, can help show realistic scheduling availability and DON’T create additional stress; in fact they do the opposite by clearly indicating what can realistically be accomplished in a day based on all other things scheduled. Once that is known, it’s not hard to start plugging in to-do list items like you would a business meeting or a deadline — making those to-do list items (that you have already narrowed down as important) a scheduled priority. 

And once that starts happening, things start getting done, baby step by baby step, no longer sitting on a digitally dusty (or coffee-stained to-do list). 

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