Make Your List and Check It Twice

By Heather Baldwin

It’s the new year – a time when people think about new beginnings, new projects and making resolutions to better their lives. Yet it’s tough to fulfill these plans when you’re mentally anchored to unfinished projects and old business. David Allen, author of Ready for Anything (Viking, 2003), offers these suggestions for clearing the decks and moving forward, now and throughout the year.

1. Clear your head and your desk for creativity. Most people prepare for change a few days before a big event, such as a long vacation or a move. When these events happen, we tend to clean up, close up, evaluate agreements and generally get some clarity around our commitments and tasks. Don’t wait for life altering events to clear your desk. Instead, do it weekly and during the moments most people waste – the 5 minutes in a staff meeting when you’re waiting for a late arrival or the 10 minutes at home when you’re waiting for your spouse to get ready. “I know few people on the planet who care enough about their time and what they’re doing every minute to maximize those kinds of windows,” says Allen.

2. If it’s on your mind, it’s probably not getting done. If something will bug you until you’ve take action, whether that means doing it or simply deciding how to move on it, then put reminders in places you’ll see at the right times. Anything on your mind, whether it’s remembering to buy milk on the way home or how you are going to fire Bob, takes up what Allen calls psychic RAM. The solution, says Allen, is simple: Write it down. Look at it. Do the task now or set aside a specific time in the future for it. Get it off your mind and into a system so you can devote your mental energy to something better.

3. You are not your work. The best and most productive way to do your work is to be its master, not its slave. Some of the best projects Allen did were never on his lists. He was able to do them because of those lists, however, since he had parked his work in a safe place, knew exactly where all his projects stood and knew he had time to put 100% of his focus and creative energy into something else. With the new year here, now is the perfect time to clear the cobwebs, establish your lists and allow yourself the freedom to put all your creative energy into new projects.