This is part 3 in a series entitled “Managing Your Gift.” The basic premise is that your problem is not your lack of gifting, but simply the fact that you don’t know how to manage your gift. Managing your gift might look different for you, but this is what it looks like for me.

Today it’s about To Do lists.

All of my life, I’ve struggled to manage my workflow. The challenge for me has always been finding ways to manage the details and decide what to work on when. So far, To Do lists have been my tool.

Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in my self-perception and self-relationship. I’ve been moving from viewing myself as a worker (driven by lists and commands) to viewing myself as a manager (driven by projects, goals, and purpose). I’m involved in the same projects, and I have the same responsibilities, but I’ve been adopting a new way of thinking.

New ways of thinking require new methods, and this is a method with which I’m experimenting. Here is a picture of my office wall:

The green paper is my personal mission statement. The orange papers are my employer’s mission statement. These define the overall purpose that I’m working toward. Everything else beneath those papers should fit into those mission statements.

The white papers that are plastered all over my wall represent the significant projects I am involved in and responsible for. This includes things such as book marketing (on the left) and a new website and promotional film (on the right). The little yellow sticky notes that you see are specific tasks or meetings that need to be done to advance the project. These sticky notes can also represent tasks that other people must complete for me to advance the project.

The problem with To Do lists is that they provide no context. You formulate all the tasks at one time, so if your requirements or priorities change, you’re forced to revamp your entire To Do list. In addition, it requires you to prioritize many small tasks; if you get stuck on one, how do you know where to move to? From my experience, To Do lists do a poor job of adapting to the constant change in workflow.

The Wall approach allows me to visualize my overall workflow and gives me a birds-eye view of my job (all of life, really). My daily workflow looks like this:

  1. Find the project that needs my attention right now (whether because of urgency or importance).
  2. Find a way to advance the project.
  3. Repeat.

This solves another problem with To Do lists, which is incentive. One problem I have with To Do lists is that they primarily reward completion. However, completion only happens once in the life cycle of a project. The Wall approach, on the other hand, rewards advancement. As long as I am strategically advancing a project, I feel satisfaction and receive motivation.

A “completion” mindset implies that your To Do list is supposed to be empty, which is a battle that you’ll never win. An “advancement” mindset assumes that your job is to move things forward, and completion is almost an accidental side benefit. My work at the office is never done; I just go home and continue the next day. This environment is very demoralizing if you have a “completion” mindset. However, if your goal is an “advancement” mindset, you get constant boosts and constant feedback throughout your day.

Further, even though I have a technical background, it is extremely helpful for me to have a tangible representation of my workflow. I could store this same information on the computer, and it wouldn’t carry the same power as having something physically hanging on my wall.

One final benefit of the Wall approach is that it gives you a clear picture of what your focus should be. If you divide your life into categories and discover that you have more papers than space, it may be an indication that you need to narrow your focus! It is also a very tangible reminder every time you put something up on the board that you are devoting a portion of your energy and focus toward that project.

It’s an experiment, and it’s not done, but so far, it seems to be an improvement. Obviously, it’s a new idea, and it only keeps its value insofar as I can maintain the system. However, I’ve found myself becoming wiser in choosing what to work on when, and I’ve found myself enjoying work more because of it.

Now, back to you.

What’s your mindset about getting things done? Have you taken the time to experiment with custom-made tools to help you manage your life?