The Do list: How to make yours effective

Have you ever made a list of your life goals? Item 1: learn to speak Chinese. Item 2: ride a motorcycle across China. And so it goes…

But life sneaks up on you. Five years later, you find the list. You haven’t checked anything off it. It’s still sort of inspiring to you, but you know it’s even more impossible to accomplish than when you wrote it back in the day.

I’m actually a big fan of these kinds of lists. I get excited putting them together. Problem is, if you find them unchecked-off years down the line, they end up being pretty depressing, like those undone To-Do lists.

So you could just throw out the list after you make it. That would solve the problem. Almost.

A better way is to create a list you’ll actually use, a list you can actually check off.

Tips for making your Do list

  • Make a Done list first: You already did, right? Your Done list is a realistic representation of what you’re able to accomplish. It’s grounded.
  • Make a Wannado list second: Again, here’s how in case you haven’t already. Your Wannado list is a creative expression of what’s possible. It’s a way to dream.
  • Look for where your Done list and your Wannado list intersect: The intersection is your realistic amazingness, the stuff that’s both inspiring and totally within reach for you to pull off. Items don’t have to literally appear on both lists for you to include them, but you’ll have more success if they at least fit similar categories on both lists. For example, if you haven’t written anything since high school, you should probably start by trying to publishing a blog post before gunning for a full-length best seller.
  • Make items specific enough that you can check them off: I’d like to learn to speak another language. I’m not including that on my Do list, though, because I haven’t figured out how to make it specific enough. For instance, “Learn Chinese” is too vague. There’s no moment where I can specifically say that I learned Chinese. A better goal might be to order a meal in Chinese. It doesn’t have to be a smaller goal, just super specific: check-0ff-able.
  • Keep this list short: I’m thinking 10 to 20 items. If you’re not planning to¬†execute on an item in some way within a year, I’d leave it off the list. People have different opinions on this, but here’s why I like a shorter list:
    • I’ve found that I really can’t plan too far into the future, simply because I don’t know much about the future.
    • Keeping the list compact forces you not to procrastinate. The Wannado list is for dreams. The Do list is more serious. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many options.
    • When the list is short, it’s more dynamic. A bigger percentage of your items will change in any given year. For me, that’s more inspiring than a static list.
  • Read David Cain’s post about creating a life list that you’ll actually do: It’s where I got the inspiration (and some of the ideas) for this post. He’s incredibly thorough, and I think you’ll get a much stronger grounding in how to create one of these lists by following his instructions.

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with for your Do list. Tomorrow, I’ll share one more tip for creating a Do list, before sharing my current list. Until then, let me know some of your ideas.

What are you going to do?