Screw to-do lists, create a SUCCESS list
It was 1:42am on a Wednesday night, and I still had a looong way to go to finish up an important presentation for the next day.
I thought the times of pulling “all-nighters” would be over once I graduated college. But here I was, 24 years old with a full-time job and I still felt like there was never enough time in the day to get everything done.
I created to-do lists, downloaded project management apps, organized my inbox — everything that the “time management experts” recommended — but the things kept piling up day in and day out.
I remember thinking that it was normal to be busy all the time because that meant that you were succeeding, right?
The reality was, I was letting the little things get in the way of the most important things in my life. I was trying to do everything and I was accomplishing nothing of significance.
“It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”
It wasn’t until I picked up Gary Keller’s book, The ONE Thing, that I finally understood why I never seemed to have enough time to get things done.
Let me back up for a second. I purposefully used the words “never have enough time” to illustrate a point — the very point that shifted my entire mindset about time management.
The truth is we all have the same amount of time to get things done. We only get 24 hours in a day, regardless of if you’re Sir Richard Branson or some broke college student working minimum wage jobs.
It’s how we choose to spend those 24 hours that determines whether or not we will achieve what we want to achieve. If we want to make real progress we need to learn how to put first things first.
Putting first things first means identifying and focusing only on the activities that will move you exponentially closer to achieving your goal — the 20% of what you do that creates 80% of your outcomes. In academic terms, this is known as the Pareto principle (aka the 80/20 rule).
This principle is at the core of creating your Success List.
The easiest way to think about the difference between a “to-do list” and a “success list” is a to-do list contains all of the things you could do while a success list only contains the things you should do.
Now that we understand the difference between a to-do list and a success list, let’s look at the steps to create your very own success list.
The first step to creating your success list is to brain dump all of the things you need to get done around a certain area of your life (your typical categorized to-do list). So, let’s say you now have a list of 25 things to do today (or think you have to do).
The second step is to eliminate 80% of that list, leaving only 20% of the original tasks. So if your list originally contained 25 tasks, you would now end up with a list of only 5 things to do — this list of 5 things is your success list.
Okay, even though it can be somewhat difficult to decide what to eliminate, it’s still pretty doable.
But according to Gary Keller, Pareto didn’t take it far enough. He pushes us to think, what if we only choose to do the 20% of that 20%? This is what Keller calls the Extreme Pareto Principle.
Eventually, we’ll get down to only ONE thing, and this is the ONE thing which moves us forward the furthest. Although you still may have to do the other 4 things on your success list, you now know which one thing is most important.
So the next time you are not sure what you should be focused on — the thing that will have by far the greatest impact on reaching your goal — ask yourself the focusing question, “What is the ONE Thing that I can do, so that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”.