A friend recently put the question to her readers, how you do self manage? How do you hold yourself accountable? I’ve been thinking on this, and what I’ve come up with is that I’m a list maker, and that when needed, guilt can also be a strong motivator. lol
Many years ago I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. It’s been so long since I’ve read it that I can’t recite the 7 habits or give detailed accounts of how to employ each, but I can tell you what did stick with me: the value of making lists.
I know this sounds really straight-forward and simple. But really there’s more to it than just a list.
Each morning, make a list of the things you need or want to accomplish that day. Big things, little things. List it all. Then, periodically throughout the day, check back to the list, and mark things off that have been completed. This process is two-fold. It can hold you accountable and it lets you pat yourself on the back for those things you have accomplished, no matter how small they might seem.
When I first started this method of listing making, I was struggling with the stress that many people have when they work in a high pressure, fast-paced work environment. That feeling of being buried, not being able to come up for air, not ever getting ahead, not feeling good about yourself because so much is still undone. Employing this process helped me see what I was getting done and helped me re-align my perspective to recognize and reward myself for the work that was done, not just focusing on what wasn’t done. There’s always more work to do. There’s always more chores waiting to be done. If all you ever think about is the things you didn’t finish, then you can really get mired down in negative thinking. (I am the queen of beating yourself up with negative self talk and this really helped me turn that around in this aspect of my life.)
At the end of the day, review your list, congratulate yourself for all the wonderful things you accomplished, large or small, and move those items that you did not complete to your list for the next day.
I still make lists, more for personal use than professional these days. Not just because I naturally am a list person, or because as I get older I’m less and less able to remember things without writing them down (sigh), but because it really does help me feel like I’ve accomplished something, even if I don’t get to every item on the list.
Here’s a sample list for you visual folks. (Don’t laugh at the little things! If you only list the heavy hitters, and you don’t get to any of them, then this can cause discouragement by making you feel like you didn’t get anything done. When in truth, you may have done a million little things with your day that you aren’t giving yourself credit for.)
Return library books
Bake banana bread
At the end of the day it might look like this:
Return library books
Bake banana bread
The items not marked off move to your list for the next day. If you still don’t get to them the next day, keep moving them forward. The point is, they will stay there until you complete them. But even better, look at all the things that are crossed off! Yay me! 🙂 (Hypothetically of course.)
Of course this doesn’t mean I’m always on top of everything. I still find myself putting off really unpleasant tasks, or sometimes just not getting to everything. Usually that’s when the guilty conscience kicks in. I’ll eventually get the thing done just so I can stop feeling guilty about procrastinating.
On a side note, I discourage writing permanent post it notes as reminders. I personally believe it is much better to actively interact with your list each day, even if you’re looking at some of the same things. The process of writing a task new each day keeps it fresh. A sticky note on your calendar, or fridge, or computer eventually becomes invisible due to being seen every day. Your brain starts to disregard the content because it’s always the same, always there. That’s how I recently forgot to mail a greeting card on the day I wanted to mail it. I bought it three weeks early, put a post it note on it with “Mail June 4th” and although I saw it every day for those three weeks, I didn’t realize until June 8th that I hadn’t mailed it on time. Doh!
If you’re interested, you can read more on Habit 3 which tackles personal management, as well as explore the other 7 Habits, here.
When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.