It’s time do ditch the thing that you probably think is helping your productivity: the to-do list. Sound crazy? Read on…
“Make a list!” Any time I’m frustrated with the environment at work, at home, or in a relationship, I hear my mother’s echo, “make a list!”
Seriously, this started when I was about 10 years old and my overly Type A personality would be overwhelmed by homework — she’d tell me to make a list of each assignment that needed to be done, with a due date next to it. It helped me see, in front of me, what was necessary, and stopped me from spiraling out of “I have too much to do, I can’t do this!” control.
What’s more — and I didn’t really recognize the value of this until later in life — it gave me the power to, if necessary, go to my teachers and say “hey, this is what you’re giving me — this is too much to expect to be done in this time frame!” Imagine how helpful it can be when your boss throws you 72 hours of work for you to get done in only 40…
Meet the change list:
It’s not a to-do list, but rather a “this is what needs solving, changing, or fixing” list.
It’s what would snap me out of complainer mode and into fixer mode.
It’s what has helped me make decisions when faced with conflict.
It’s what has helped me regain control when I felt like everything was moving much too fast.
And it will help you. This is a list that will change your life (literally).
What’s a change list?
It’s a list of everything that needs to be different from what it is now.
Uhh…how is that different from a to-do list?
It leaves out the mundane, inane stuff that we tend to write into a to-do list just for the pleasure of crossing it off. It puts in front of you the concrete stuff that you probably having swirling around in your head as capricious, abstract, discombobulated fragment of thought, causing you to ping-pong among everything going on in your head.
Unclear? Let’s look at an example.
Sally is a manager of a department that isn’t meeting its targeted sales goals, but she can’t understand why because she’s so busy all the time, and she sees that the other people in her department are (or at least look) busy, too. She leaves work everyday feeling exhausted, still answering emails from her phone, and complains to her husband and kids at the dinner table when she’s home. She feels like the department is working hard, but she’s not getting support from the other departments, and thinks that some of the people are busy working, but not working efficiently.
Now, Sally’s planning her day for tomorrow.
If Sally were to make a to do list, it would probably look something like this:
- email Mr. Green this week’s numbers
- clear out junk inbox
- prep meeting room for 2PM team meeting
- organize papers in lower desk drawer
- get lunch with Lauren
- ask Dave why he didn’t provide the report I needed/get report from Dave
- pick up groceries on the way home
- update project timeline
This list is probably super gratifying — at the end of the day, everything will be crossed off. But what was the point of making the list? Sally doesn’t need to be reminded that she’s going to eat lunch or that her drawer needs clearing — she sees it everyday! It’s also unlikely she needs to be reminded to update her project timeline, since that is probably a daily item. Sure, she may need help remember to pick up the groceries on the way home — we’ll let that stay
If Sally were to make a change list, it would probably look something like this:
- connecting departments not speaking well to each other — speak to outside department heads (with upper management if necessary) to reach solution — consider 1 main contact point per dept or daily check-in times
- dept seems busy but inefficient — review day-to-day activities of each team member to determine inefficiencies
- sales goals not met this week — review if across the board or some members haven’t carried their weight
This list (aside from groceries, of course) is a heavy feeling one — it’s the problems being faced that require solutions, AKA change. It’s looking at issues right in front of you and coming up with solutions to ruminate over. Trust me, when you cross each of these off, it will be infinitely more gratifying than that puny little to do list.
Another great use for a change list is when you’re making a decision or facing specific conflicts — such as in these scenarios:
After careful review of her department, Sally has determined that one of her staff members, Dave, really isn’t carrying the weight, but feels guilty releasing him because he’s been with the company a while. So, she makes a change list of the things that she would need him to change in order to keep him as part of the team:
- is late too work more than 2 days per week (attendance record to prove it)
- has not met expected/averaged sales count as set forth in job expectations (factored in the rest of the department’s performance to determine that it’s not an across-the-board issue)
- does not make an effort to contact or work with other departments when prompted
- is easy to irritate or anger when on the phone with clients
This list gives Sally proof and “ammunition” to have a conversation with Dave to discuss where/how he can improve. The concrete list allows her to feel confident in addressing him, and also gives Dave the opportunity to improve.
Dave is super unhappy at his job — it’s far from his home, and he sits in rush hour traffic all day. Once he gets to work, he’s so irritated by the commute that he just hates answering calls, meeting with clients, and even communicating with people in his organization, whether it’s people outside his department, his superiors, of even his team members. He dreads turning his sales reports in every week and at month-end because he knows he’s not meeting his goals, and he personally feels bad about it because he knows he’s capable of more. He makes every break last a little longer by walking very slowly back to his desk, and distracts himself on his phone while he’s at his desk when his manager can’t see. He started at the company in this sales department because it was the only position available at the time, even though his true passion is marketing. He complains to his family everyday about his job, until finally he listens when his wife says make a list!
Dave makes a list of the things that would need to change in order for him to enjoy his job:
- reduce commute time — either be able to work remotely or change my hours so that I don’t experience rush hour everyday
- transition to a position that will allow me to spend more time in marketing and advertising
Dave sees that it’s clear that the things that will make him less miserable are not things that he’s experiencing everyday. So he asks his direct supervisor, Sally, if any of the above is possible.
It’s not just for work.
Making change lists can help you in your personal life, too.
Have roommates and you all just can’t seem to get on the same page? Make a list of the things driving you crazy, and have them do the same. Go over it with each other and reach solutions, instead of leaving passive aggressive to-do lists on the fridge.
Are you and your partner in some weird cold war or a continual circle of fighting that you can’t shake? Make a list of the things bothering you, and visa versa, in addition to the things that you would like more of (or less of) to feel more secure and/or happier.
Are you unhappy with where you are in your life — physically, mentally, or anything else? Get real with yourself and make a list of the things you’d change if time and money weren’t an object, or a list of the things you’d go after if you knew you were incapable of failure. Your dreams may be lofty, but making them concrete will give them roots to become reality.
The only change list to avoid? Things you want to change about family members. That… you just have to accept as is 😉