Start your day with a to-be list, not a to-do list, you’ll get more done!

This is a simple, powerful idea, that will help you to be more productive. Start your day with a to-be list, not a to-do list. It’s counterintuitive, but I guarantee you’ll get more done (and have a much better day too!).

A to-be list, vs a to-do list

We’re all familiar with to-do lists. It might be paper and pencil, a ‘living’ document on your desktop, or a to-do list app. A to-do list is the bread and butter of personal productivity management.

Systems like David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD for short), build a whole methodology around writing tasks down. And this makes good sense, as he says:

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them

David Allen

Unfortunately, to-do lists are endless and infinite. How do you feel when you look at your to-do list? Do you feel empowered and enthused? If you’re like me, usually not! I love my work, but the idea of an infinite list of to-do’s in front of me doesn’t fill me full of joy.

In contrast, a to-be list is focused and specific. To-be’s tap into a deeper sense of purpose. They define how you want to show-up that day. They help you be at your best.

When to write a to-do list

To-do lists have their purpose. My recommendation is to write your to-do list at the end of the day, to prepare yourself for the next day. At the end of the day, all the tasks you’ve been working on are fresh in your mind. Make it your habit to get your next to-do list organized before you finish work for the day.

Here’s an example of my to-do list:

  • Clear my emails
  • Write to Mrudula about the annual plan
  • Message Max about the Mentoring program
  • Schedule a call with Bruce to confirm next steps
  • Chase Andrew to get sign-off
  • Complete Certification for ‘Think on your Feet’
  • Start work on the presentation skills deck
  • (etc, etc, etc, etc.)

It’s a perfect example of why starting the day with a to-do list is so wrong. It’s essential but taking the time and energy to capture it all is not a great start to the day. Do it at the end of your day.

Start your day with a to-be list

Start your day with a to-be list, it will set you up for a successful day.

Here’s an example of my typical to-be list:

It reminds me what I need to be, to have a successful day. And by ‘successful’ I mean productive and calm, with an appropriate level of stress, and a feeling of wellbeing.

How to create your to-be list

Your to-be list for any particular day will be influenced by a number of things:

  • What’s personal to you
  • What’s important in your job
  • What’s important to your day

What’s personal to you: for me this is all about focus. On my worst days I struggle to focus, and as a result I get less done and end the day frustrated and low. Reminding myself how to focus at the start of the day helps to keep me on track. Often this will involve using the Pomodoro technique, including regular breaks that give me the opportunity to move and indulge my distractions.

What’s important in your job: curiosity is an essential component of success in most jobs. It can also be something that I struggle with unless I deliberately remind myself (I can have a rather narrow focus at times!). For both those reasons I usually add curiosity to my to-be list.

What’s important to your day: this depends on the type of work that you’re doing that day. If I’m training, then being focused, curious and an attentive listener are all good. And I might add ‘enthusiastic’ to the list too. Or if I’m in a planning workshop for the day, then I might add ‘creative’ and ‘open to new ideas’ to my list.

Take 5 minutes at the start of the day and reflect on your to-be list for the day. Make sure you write them down and focus on them. You can write them on a big Post-It note, or a notepad, or a scrap of paper, anything that’s handy. It’s the act of writing and focusing that is helpful.

You’ll start the day feeling more purposeful and more centered. You’ll have a better day, and you’ll get more done!

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