3 Steps to Founder Invincibility (How to Do a To-Do List)

My guess is your To-Do list is a lengthy list of urgent trivia you told yourself you would complete today, but which despite your best efforts will be 80% finished at best.

And because a lot of these tasks are urgent, you get to feel you never got around to the important things (like those 5 or 6 BHAGS you set yourself for the year). And as for the “meaning of life”/vision stuff — don’t make me laugh, that’s definitely on the back burner — again.

And guess what — yesterday was the same — right?

The problem is not that the tasks themselves don’t need doing, nor that you are unproductive. It’s the process.

We’re all familiar with the urgent taking priority over the important; and that my “urgent” is often a) somebody else’s crisis or b) my own basic survival.

A popular form of monitoring productivity is the “inbox” obsession. If I could achieve “inbox zero” THEN I could grab 20 minutes to take exercise, eat a nutritious meal, phone a friend, read a poem, meditate.

The temptation is to put unfinished To-Do’s from today at the top of tomorrow’s list. Add a few more, hope to do better, and…repeat!

It’s like setting the high jump at what seems a reasonable height and continuously knocking it off. Result? A feeling of disappointment, and frustration, which only grows over time. Any sense of confidence/self belief/invincibility melts away, along with the trust others have in me, as things get delayed, go over budget, and keep changing. Of course there’s a reason — everything can be explained after the event — but logic is not the issue here. This is psychology. “Believe it so you can see it” — style.

So, how to change this for superhero invincibility?

Step 1. Always complete what you say you will — specially what you tell yourself you’ll do. Promises to others are actually secondary, and the degree to which you keep them determines their trust in you (100% is recommended).

Step 2. Write down what you promise to do, with a deadline. Keep in some place in your face.

Step 3. Separate promises from mere reminders. Keep them on a separate list (list 2). We’ve all heard about under-promising and over-delivering — but few of us practice it. Look at all those crowdfunding campaigns.

If you imagine three lists: 1) To-Do, 2) KPIs for the year, 3) Vision/Mission items (bucket list!) — Most of us work from 1 to 3, and never get beyond 1. We start the day checking out the To-Do’s.

Try reversing the process. Start at 3 and work back.

Start the day reviewing the “Vision/Mission” (even meditate on it). If it’s written first person (as it should be), it’ll make inspiring reading aloud — like an affirmation.

Then (and only then) read through those key 5/6 important goals for the year — strategic goals — PMBO’s.

Make a note of the “next steps” (To-Do’s)

Then (and only then), write your To-Do list for the day — recognising that if it already fills the day you have ZERO chance of completing it, because we all get interruptions, and other peoples “crises” to be fixed. Generally if you have 5 hours of To-Do’s you might be OK.

The feeling of satisfaction, confidence, self-belief comes from 100% completion of this daily To-Do list. (P.S. 99%’s a bitch, 100%’s a breeze — trust me on that.)

For best result set yourself as short a list as your conscience allows — and finish EARLY. Giving yourself spare time to tackle those “next steps” on the strategic goals/reminders you made a note of earlier.

The stylish way to record your efforts if they are on paper is to highlight the items on the list. (That’s what highlighter pens were invented for!!). Don’t just cross them off (delete) the list. Acknowledgement (specially self acknowledgement) is the last step, and critical step, in generating the creativity, collaboration, and commitment you need if you going to change the world.

The psychology here is a wonder to behold. Your brain tells you you’ve not only done everything you committed to; you now have spare time to do these extra items and you finish the day scoring 120% of the target. You cleared the high jump bar with ease!! YAY!!

It’s all psychology, AND it works.

In my view, the only two things a startup founder needs are 1) a vision and 2) a massive level of self-belief.

So you’re now halfway there!!

Originally published at sosv.com on August 16, 2016.