Finding a good system to be organized can be intimidating.
There are so many options! Useful tips on how to get your life together are all over the internet. From minimalist planners to detailed systems, something is bound to draw you in.
Choosing the best system to use will be the biggest decision you’ll have to make.
What a lot of productivity gurus don’t tell you, though, is that the right system for you isn’t something you find. It’s something you create.
Start small, go steady
Starting small is the best way to approach habit-building. This gives you a sustainable pace to follow and scale. Plus, on days that you miss a mark, getting back on track will be easier to do.
Popular systems will always be there to guide you as you go. But if you’re just starting with your journey, it’s best if you start with something simple that you can update as you go.
Organization systems should be built around your goals and projects, not the other way around.
One small step for you, one giant leap to your most productive self
Making lists is at the heart of every organization method. And if you’re new to this journey, this is the best place to start.
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People starts with you making a list of everything that concerns you before organizing them into quadrants.
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll advocates for rapid logging, which means quickly transcribing all tasks, ideas, and upcoming events, in bulleted lists.
The GTD Method, created by productivity consultant David Allen, is also a very popular system used by entrepreneurs and project managers all over the world. It organizes tasks according to action points, so they can be tackled systematically and effectively.
But before you could organize them into groups, you have to start with doing one important thing: Yep, you guessed it — making a list.
The Power of Lists
Simple as it looks, list-making is a productivity hack you shouldn’t underestimate. Not only does it make you more organized, but it does wonders for mental health and personal growth, too.
Making lists can help you:
- Clear your mind
- Gain a better perspective
- Manage and prioritize your tasks and ideas
- Motivate yourself to work and grow
Lists can help you clear your mind
Living in the digital age, you’re constantly bombarded with information.
This can either give you access to loads of ideas, skills, and opportunities, or let loose a series of productivity setbacks: lack of focus, analysis paralysis, and many others.
Relying on your memory to store information can be messy. Unfortunately, it’s not as reliable as you think it is.
Many factors influence the way you recall events. The emotional impact they’ve had on you, the level of importance you’ve attached to them, and even the amount of sleep you’ve had near the time you stored it in your brain, could change many of its details.
The best way to most accurately keep track of tasks and ideas is by getting them out of your brain as soon as possible. You can do this by listing them down.
This removes unnecessary work for your brain so you can focus on what’s in front of you. When you’re fully present, you get to come up with more creative solutions. It’s also when you’re most receptive to growth and new information.
Writing things down will make you more efficient because it makes you unlikely to forget anything as you go about your life. This simple act can reduce your anxiety because your brain will know exactly where to find the information it needs when it comes in handy.
Lists can help you gain a better perspective
In his best-selling book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear talks about the Habit Scorecard. This tool is important to start with if you want to build habits that support your goals.
Habits are rituals and actions that we tend to do without thinking. This gives good habits an immense power to propel you to success, and bad habits an equal ability to cause a downfall you won’t even see coming.
If you want to change your habits, James Clear emphasizes the importance of awareness. And this is where the Habit Scorecard comes in handy.
To create a habit scorecard, you have to write all the actions you take in a day, just as it is.
For example, if your goal is to stop being late for work, it might be good to list everything you do from the moment you wake up, up until you walk out the door. Your list might look something like this:
- Turn off alarm
- Lie down again
- Open Instagram
- Scroll through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
- Get up again 15 minutes later
- (…and so on, up until you leave for work)
These are usually things you do on autopilot. Having them on paper lets you see them clearly and evaluate whether or not they’re helping you with your goal.
Simple as it is, the Habit Scorecard is very effective because it allows you to identify, question, and therefore, manage, the things that you, otherwise, wouldn’t even notice.
This works the same way when you are swamped with many things to do. Listing them down will give you a bird’s eye view so you can prioritize and schedule them accordingly.
Making lists improves your focus
When the personal pilot of the billionaire investor, Warren Buffet, asked his employer for advice on how to manage his goals, Mr. Buffet advised him to make a list of 25 things that were important for him to achieve in his life.
After creating the list, Mr. Buffet asked him to encircle the five most important ones and create a separate list for those and the remaining twenty.
The pilot proceeded to interpret his understanding of the exercise. He said that the five-item list would be the goals that he’ll pursue no matter what. As for the remaining twenty, they’ll be the things he’ll work on, whenever he has time.
Mr. Buffet quickly corrected the young pilot’s assumption.
According to the successful billionaire, the five-item list would be the goals that the young pilot should focus on achieving. As for items in the second list, those will be the things he should avoid at all costs until he checks off everything in his first list.
Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Whether you’re Oprah, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk, you have the same number of hours to work with daily to move towards what matters to you.
If you want to build progress, lists can help you in being intentional with how you spend your time and where you channel your energy.
Lists motivate you to move forward
The chemical in our brain that makes you want things is called dopamine.
In prehistoric times, this drove your ancestors to hunt so they could eat. Now, it’s what pushes you to take another scoop of ice cream, strike a conversation with an interesting person, or purchase the studded jacket by the store window even when it’s not in your budget.
While dopamine pushes you to accomplish things, it’s also replenished when you’re rewarded for your actions. This makes it easier to get more done after you achieve something. Momentum.
The tricky thing about habits is that bad habits often offer instant rewards. Good habits, on the other hand, rarely do.
The flavor explodes in your mouth the moment you sink your teeth into a crispy potato chip. As for exercise, it will take multiple sessions until your body gets used to it, and it will take even more until you see noticeable changes.
To work around this, productivity expert, James Clear, recommends the use of Habit Trackers, which is simply a record of how often you can accomplish the habits you set out to build.
Keeping this on record allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment in progress, and not just the completion of your end-goal. This then sustains your dopamine and helps you to go further up the road towards your desired outcome. To-do lists pretty much work the same way.
The more boxes you tick, the more motivated you’ll be in finishing more things.
Making lists is a great, simple way to start your journey towards building your productivity system.
As you go through this exercise, expect to have a clearer mind, and a better ability to focus and think creatively. Every day can be a step to your goal when you set priorities and live intentionally. Huge successes are made up of many small victories, and lists can help give you exactly that.
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Author: Hannah Donato
Hannah is an event marketer and a freelance writer, specializing on personal optimization and personal productivity SaaS tools. On her personal time, she writes to share her passion about pet adoption and personal growth.