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Boggs: The Power of the To-Do List

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I just returned from a 10-day vacation with my wife. The day before we left, I realized I hadn’t done anything to prepare for our trip. Not only had I not packed, but I hadn’t even checked the weather of our destination to see what type of clothes I needed to pack. I usually research the area we are going to beforehand so I know what restaurants are available and what other things we can do while there. With everything I had going on in my life, I just plain forgot. I decided to make a list of what I needed to get done before we left, and I started to get concerned when I looked at how long it was.

The following morning my wife texted me to see how I was doing with the list; it was approximately 10 a.m. I told her I only had one thing left to do, and that everything else on the list was already done. She was impressed, and I was left feeling relaxed and comforted knowing I was now ready to embark on our vacation. Literally 24 hours earlier, I was in panic mode.

There is power in making lists. There are tons of books written about the things that successful people do, and included in almost every one of them is that successful people make lists. There's something unique that happens when we write things down versus leaving them floating in our heads. The first thing it does is free our mind to concentrate on other things, instead of remembering what needs to be done. 

Daniel Levitin wrote in his book “The Organized Mind” that most people can only hold up to four things in their mind at once. If you think about the number of things you need to accomplish in a collision center on any given day, it would be four multiplied by 1,000. There’s just no way to keep everything you need to do in your head. When we go without lists, we’re usually left with one of two outcomes: Either we stay late into the night finishing things up, or we get home feeling defeated thinking about all the things that didn’t get done that day.

Making a list at the start of each day of the important things that must get done is an almost surefire way to ensure they get accomplished. If you don’t believe me, I’d invite you to try an experiment in which you don’t make any lists one week, and the next week you make a list at the beginning of each day. It won’t take you more than five minutes to make a list. Yet I’m willing to bet that those five minutes will save you more than two hours of your day. 

Besides saving you time, I think you’ll find that making a list will empower you. It will give you a clear understanding of what you can say “no” to throughout your day. Running a collision center can be chaotic at times; there’s almost always a fire to put out somewhere. Putting these fires out is usually the main reason we don’t accomplish what’s most important. With a written daily to-do list, it allows you to prioritize one item over another. With a clear focus on what needs to get done, you’ll find yourself getting the list completely checked off early in the day. That will leave you the afternoon to put out fires, or deal with the general distractions that are likely to come your way.

If you’ve never made a habit of creating to-do lists, I’d suggest starting small. Write down two or three things you want to accomplish in a given time period. Make sure that you’re specific when making a list. If the first thing you write is “solve all the shop’s problems,” you’ll have no idea where to begin. Be as specific as you can with your list. If you need to add on to your building, you could start by putting on your list that you need to get three bids from different contractors. It might seem overwhelming to put an addition on your building, but it’s simple to call three contractors to get quotes. 

Making lists is an easy habit to start and I think you’ll find it’s life changing. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it will cost you significantly by not making them. List makers get things done. The people who don’t make them are usually the ones who dream of getting things done. Which type of person do you want to be?


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