Today I would like to share the 5 steps that would make your brain so happy you have created a to-do list!
Write everything down.
You might need to keep a journal or a notebook accessible at all times, use the Notes app on your phone or something similar. The main idea is to keep all your notes in one place and not scattered through the office/house/car on separate sticky notes.
Very soon you will notice that some tasks keep appearing on your list over and over again. Those are the ones that keep sitting in the back of your mind and take the brain power from the work that needs to be done. Just like a smartphone, the brain collects junk files. Just like the smartphone, if those junk files are not taken care of, they will drain the power from your brain. We don’t want that, do we?
To free the brain from junk files, add them to your list. Once you see which ones keep coming back, spend a couple of minutes deciding if they are really that important or it is something that can be left alone.
For example, if you notice the same “ send the Christmas cards” showing on your list in November/December all you need to do is act on it. If it is still on your list in February, it is time to ditch that idea and free your brain space for something else. Do you see how the same idea can be a VIP file or a JUNK file depending on your own circumstance?
At night before bedtime, go through your list and highlight only the tasks that need to be done tomorrow.
Why is it important? This activity allows you to free up some space and recharge your brain while you are sleeping without those nasty JUNK files in the background. What is going to happen to all the other important items? They are on your list so they will not perish. The following night, before highlighting, go a few days back on your lists and re-assess their importance. If still important, copy and paste. If not – JUNK file.
Be realistic about what you can do in a day.
It sounds like this piece of advice is applicable to over-achievers only, but the truth is that everyone can benefit from it. Being realistic about your day and allowing yourself to under-set your goals allows your brain to cheer when you those items get checked off your list. The happy hormone, dopamine, is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain‘s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them. So once you make your brain happy about crossing something off your list, your brain will start looking for ways to get more items crossed off the same list.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true also. When you lose and don’t get done what was on your list, you feel discouraged and upset, your brain does all in its power to help you avoid those emotions again by steering you clear from any lists and tasks, leading you into a procrastination trap.
In a nutshell, if you think you can get six tasks done, write down four as your primary goal and the other two as your flexible goal. Make sure, though, to not add the VIP tasks to flexibles, yes? This way if the four are done and no time for the other two, you are still golden! If you still have time for the other two, well, you did a fantastic job today!
Find a way to celebrate every time you check an item off.
This is a big deal. Only celebrating will tell your brain to release dopamine. That’s how you train your brain to get things done. How to celebrate? Great question!
Include as many senses as you can. Ticking it off on your computer or phone – add a touch tone. Do a little happy dance. Reward yourself with a stroll around the office and a friendly chit-chat with a co-worker. Get a cup of coffee. Or tea. Or a glass of water. Make sure your celebration is visual (include something you can see, such as a thick line all the way across the goal), auditory (whisper “yeah!” as you are slowly crossing the thing off your list), and tactile (by using a marker that glides over the paper). Get creative and your brain will reward you!
Take care of yourself first.
Taking care of yourself is not optional. When planning for your day, insert the times when you will be taking care of yourself. A short walk around the office or a quick stretch might be just exactly what your brain needs to recharge or get perspective on the problem you were stuck solving for a week. Now, if you don’t include self-care into your to-do list, chances are you won’t do it.
Set your priorities straight from the very beginning and take care of yourself first. You are the one who makes things happen. So go, make them happen!