A To do list is for daily tasks, but what about those ever important long term goals? It would be a distraction to look at all of it every day. Over the weekend I had a conversation about this exact topic, so I felt it was worth writing about. My clients, colleagues, and friends know I'm a GTD practitioner. It reminds me of how my father managed his day using some old DOS software. He captured everything he needed to do and set a day to be reminded. Every day he would print off his list and get to work on it. New items were captured on the paper and keyed into the program daily. He specified the day to be reminded and then forgot about it. This is where the magic happens! This post will go into more detail on how to make this work for you.
Use the Right Tools for the Job
As I mentioned before, the magic comes from setting a reminder for the action. This is critical to filtering out distraction and noise on a daily basis, but not losing sight of the long term goals. In my post about how to find more time in the day, I stress the importance of reviewing lists regularly. How do we review lists associated with projects that may not end for five years? You need two reliable tools for this. One to to store information such as articles or notes for reference. The other to capture actions to take with the ability to show you the right actions on the right days. This can be papers and folders, digital, or both. The key is that you always have access to what you need when you need it. I personally use Evernote for notes and Things (Consider Omnifocus as an alternate) for actions.
How do we review lists associated with projects that may not end for five years?
Categorize your Goals by Time
Once you select your tools, you'll want to capture your projects with the associated actions and notes. We'll say a project is anything that's two or more actions and will finish within a year. If the goal spans outside of a year, then create a lists of 1-2 year, 3-5 year, and lifetime goals. Take time to associate the long term goals with any active projects that relate to them. This will differ based on the tools you're using, but it's still important to do. Capture any notes and reference material related to your projects in your other tool. Make sure you create the appropriate associations there as well. With everything primed and ready to go, it's time to schedule tasks!
Create a Schedule to Review the Lists
Scheduling your various reviews will help quiet the mind and remove distraction. Scheduling tasks will differ depending on your tools, but it's critical to being effective. First you want to schedule a daily review to stare at your calendar and daily to do list. This is best implemented as recurring event on your calendar. Next schedule a weekly review on your calendar and to do list. I usually block off at least 1.5-3 hours to do this. You'll review actions associated with your projects, areas of focus (family, work, finances, etc.), and scan your calendar a few weeks out.
Scheduling your various reviews will help quiet the mind and remove distraction.
Next schedule a quarterly review action of your 1-2 year goals. You'll end up looking at these more frequently, but this is a good review interval. Next schedule a bi-annual action to review your 3-5 year goals. Again, you'll end up seeing these more frequently, but these times will be more deliberate. You'll want to take more time reviewing progress and adding more projects (within a year) to help move the goal along. I usually take three hours of time to do this, but I'm an INTJ who enjoys thinking and analyzing a lot. Make sure you give yourself enough time to reflect and plan.
A Quick Recap
Let's review how to reduce distraction and use lists for long term goals. You need tools to support capturing and scheduling of tasks and notes. The tools should support your ability to associate your tasks and notes with areas of focus in your life as well as the projects and goals they're associated with. You then divide your projects and goals into less than a year, 1-2 years, and 3-5 year lists. From here you'll have scheduled tasks to review your lists at the appropriate frequency. This will change your daily to do list into a mixture of actions that lend themselves to short-term and long term goals. You will have more lists to review, but only when the time is right. This will keep your mind clear and focused and remove the distraction caused by the nagging feeling that the important things are slipping.