Using To Do lists for success.

Posted by Trevor on 23 October 2012 | Post a Comment

“I have a question about planning the day: Do you advise on keeping a to-do list at all?”

This question came to me via the Three Simple Steps Facebook page, and I’m glad to have the chance to address it, because it’s a great question.

The short answer is: yes, it’s very important to write a to-do list.

I have someone doing work on my home right now who never ever writes anything down. She’s actually convinced that she can remember everything, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to call to remind her that something is due.

She is certainly not alone. I think we all believe that we’re great at remembering things, but truthfully, we’re probably not. Any one of us can fall victim to distractions, with detrimental results.

Mary Kay Wagner Ash never finished college. She worked for a variety of direct sales companies, where she rose through the ranks. Rejected for promotion in favor of a young man that she had helped train, she chose to take her destiny into her own hands. At that time she was 45 years old.

She started writing a book designed to help young women navigate through a male-dominated business world. Before she knew it, her unfinished book transformed into a business plan. It was 1963, and the year opened with gloomy forecasts of a downturn—one that never materialized, and cries for tax cuts that filled newspaper column inches. In the midst of it all, a month before she started her company, Mary Kay’s second husband died.

Undeterred she used her entire life savings of $5,000 and recruited the help of her son, who eventually became the Mary Kay Inc. Executive Chairman. She hired nine freelance consultants who all worked out of their homes, and then she opened her first store in Dallas. At that time, her company was called Beauty by Mary Kay. She lived by the principle known as “The Golden Rule,” i.e., that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

In 2010, global revenue exceeded $2.5 billion and Mary Kay Cosmetics is a recognized brand all over the world. In her autobiography The Mary Kay Way, she outlines what it takes for a beauty consultant to succeed, and highlights the importance of discipline as a tool for the successful entrepreneur. She repeats this advice in her two motivational books Mary Kay on People Management (1984) and Mary Kay—You Can Have It All (1995). At length she describes the significance of making lists, and shows validated data on how productivity and profit increase when business people finish their day by writing a “to-do list” for the following day.

She says “My lists keep me on track, and I give it all the credit when people tell me how well I follow up. I write down everything on follow-through, and once on paper, it becomes a tangible commitment that I must attend to.”

For me, one of the main benefits to making a to-do list is that it’s a stress reliever. If I write something down, it takes a burden off my shoulders. Knowing you’ve logged something means you’re unlikely to forget it, and that makes a difference. I make it a point to write my to-do lists for the next day at the end of each day. Believe me; you’ll sleep much better without the anxiety of having to keep things in your head. And when you wake up in the morning, you’ll have a plan for the day.

When I look at my plan on the next day, I take the number one task on my to-do list and do it before anything else. Even if the phone is ringing, even if the texts or emails are screaming at me, I will do that one task. It doesn’t have to be a big one. The point is that by setting that goal, however small, and following through with it first thing, I am set into a productive mode of working for the day.

Without that focus, it’s so easy to feel scattered – and to be scattered. We all know how it is: while coffee is percolating, you nip into the office, with the intent of quickly checking email and texts and all the rest of it. The next thing you know, it is one o’clock in the afternoon and you haven’t showered or shaved yet. You’re still in your pajamas. You haven’t eaten breakfast. You have done nothing that was on your to-do list, because as soon as you let yourself get into that noise, you were sent in a million different directions.

In contrast, if you approach the day with the idea that you are not going to do anything until you complete that first task in the morning – the first task on your to-do list – you’ll approach your work in a focused manner, and you’ll actually make progress.

I am not sure that prioritizing the list even matters. A to-do list is important for the action of sitting down, doing something constructive and completing it. This affects your mentality. Putting a check mark on the list, ticking off a completed task, is a very powerful and empowering action.

Please feel free to post your own questions or comments on my Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks you for reading this article and for your support of Three Simple Steps.

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