Turning Your List Items Into Victory



When you want to get something done, how important is it to specify the time you are going to start?


Turns out Precision and Specificity are mighty helpful when listing things to get done. Researchers have found that even chronic procrastinators are eight times more likely to follow through on planned for tasks if they set a specific time to start them.


In “Be Excellent at Anything,” author Tony Schwartz illustrates this point.


A group of subjects was asked to exercise at least once a week for twenty minutes. Certainly not a daunting task, yet only 29% complied. Another group was also asked to exercise but they were provided information on the impact exercise plays in reducing heart attacks. This, of course, was a ploy to motivate them. Compliance rose to 39%. A third group was asked to commit to exercising at a specific time, on a specific day, and designated location. Compliance more than doubled to 91%! Wow!


Why does this work? When we define precisely what we’re going to do, then specify a time to start we’re more likely to actually do it. And, we’re far less likely to suddenly “discover” there is something else that is more pleasurable or easier to do instead of our intended task.


Think about a To Do List in which you didn’t specify when you would do any of the tasks. Perhaps you created your list the evening before you left work. Then the next morning, suddenly the tyranny of the urgent, along with the pull of your old previous habits, overpowered you. You looked at your list and said, “I can do that, that, and that later, maybe this afternoon.” Later, you looked at your list again and told yourself, “I really don’t have time to do any of these things today. I’ll do them tomorrow.”


So what’s the solution?


Simple: Give yourself no leeway in the start time. Make an appointment with yourself to start the work you have on your list at a specified time. If a phone call or conversation is running long, say to the other person, “I’m sorry I have another appointment, can we continue this later?”


When you set and adhere to a schedule with specific times to start things, right down to your family commitments, the activities not only expand to fill the time allotted to them, they also contract to fit within the time allotted. To make this work for you, the following tactics are recommended:


Precision and Specificity: Define precisely what you plan to undertake — and specify exactly when you will get started. The more physically, mentally or emotionally challenging the task, the greater the need to be precise and specific about the start time.


Doable Chewables: Undertake only one task at a time. Start small and build on incremental successes as you go through your list of things to do each day.


Now common sense tells us these are good ideas, right? So why don’t we get with it and start achieving more? Because life interferes, we get distracted. It’s a constant struggle to minimize our distractions and use the precious time we have wisely. But to win, we gotta work smarter. And, yup, we can do that.