It was back-to-school night at my daughter’s high school. Parents gathered to hear about the upcoming curriculum our children were soon to encounter. Each teacher had about 20 minutes to describe their class and explain their plan. But it was this phrase from the mouth of the AP History teacher that created a lasting memory: “Lincoln must be dead by Christmas.”
The context of his comment was the incredibly robust pace he had to maintain in order for this class to cover an overview of U.S. history in a single semester. It would require a significant effort on the part of the students to keep up with the necessary reading. They could not afford any distractions or lost days. They had to stay on track. And staying on track meant making sure that by the time the Holiday break came, they had gotten at least as far as 1865 and the end of the Civil War. Lincoln had to be dead by Christmas.
How To Get Things Done
This got me thinking about how to get things done and why I have always said that the “to-do” list is your best friend and worst enemy. Allow me to explain. We all love a “to-do” list. There is a sense of power and victory that comes with crossing off those little lines. We love it so much that sometimes we even write stuff down AFTER we have done it…just for the sheer enjoyment of crossing it off. I know you do it too! The list helps us push through and stay on track, and maybe even we incentivize ourselves with the promise of some reward when it’s done. And the best part? Crumbling up the list with everything crossed off and throwing it in the trash.
And herein, in my opinion, lies the problem with the “to-do” list. Everything, or virtually everything we put on these lists can be done within a few hours. Change a light bulb, replace the tire on my son’s bike, paint the den. These are typical “to-do” list items. But when is the last time you wrote any of these on your to-do list?:
- Learn to play the guitar
- Learn to speak a new language
- Start a business
- Become financially independent
- Read the whole Bible
- Get to the next level in my career
Never. How come? Well, one reason is obvious: you can’t check those off in a few minutes or even a few hours. Put any one of those things on your to-do list tomorrow and it will still be there at the end of the day. These things simply are not “list” material. So if you want to accomplish anything more significant than changing a few light bulbs you are going to need a better approach than a “to-do” list.
As a blogger and pharmacist I have had the privilege of interviewing dozens of entrepreneurs who have taken their ideas and turned them into profitable businesses. If there is a common thread that I see among all of them it is this: they get things done. They are not “someday maybe” sorts. They have a goal, they have a plan, and they do it. It is this process I’m sharing with you today.
Goals, Milestone and Next Actions
Milestones: Virtually every goal can be divided up into milestones. These take some thought, but are critical to successfully reaching a big goal. Suppose your goal is to lose 50 pounds. What is your FIRST milestone? You might say “losing 5 pounds.” Wrong. Your first milestone is developing a PLAN to lose 50 pounds. Losing 50 pounds doesn’t happen by accident. You need a plan. And so your first milestone may be (for example) to have a completed plan for losing 50 pounds written within 2 weeks. Then, and only then, are you ready to set the next milestone which might be to “lose 5 pounds in 4 weeks by following my plan.” Get the picture?
Next Actions: However, even milestones aren’t enough without “next actions.” A “next action list” is simply a mechanism for recording the very next step that needs to get done in any project. I was first introduced to this concept in David Allen’s classic book “Getting Things Done.” A “next action” list ensures that your milestones don’t simply become wishful thinking. You need to do something. And whatever that “something” is that needs to get done on the road to reaching your milestone needs to be written down. Thus, your “next actions” list becomes your “to-do” list. However, in this case, you are not simply painting a bedroom or cleaning a garage. Rather, you are taking meaningful steps to accomplishing bigger things that will be greater satisfaction than otherwise possible.
Get Started – My FREE Gift
One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, once said “Life is trying things to see if they work.” Maybe THIS will work for you! You’ll never know if you don’t give it a try. So what are you waiting for? What would you like to get done? The process of creating milestones and next actions for any great goal or project isn’t rocket science. You can do this.
Just to help get you moving I’ve added a simple 1-page download (pictured above) that allows you a way to document your goal and progress. Print it out and start using it today! Write out your goal. Create your milestones. Add “next actions” as you move from milestone to milestone. Cross them off as you go. CLICK the button below.
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