The To-Do List vs. The Action Plan
By Naila Tariq
Generally speaking, to-do lists are great.
They help keep you focused, they’re about the easiest way to get organized, and because they’re so versatile, you can add something as simple as “wake up” and get to feel accomplished when you cross it off.
(Side question: Do you cross off your list item when you’re done or do you use a tick mark?)
But when your life becomes a series of to-do lists, each one longer and more daunting than the last, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, ignore said list entirely, and just take a nap.
That’s where action plans come in, and become way more effective.
An action plan is still a to-do list, but with a twist: Your “to-dos” are divided into categories, and each category is a goal you want to achieve. You can – and should – even divide your plans for different parts of your life, with separate folders for home, work, and school.
To use a simple example, say you want to finish a research paper by a certain date, because it’s important to your course work and will help you graduate with a higher grade. If your to-do list is filled only with things like “read x book,” “write x number of words,” “finish draft x,” you’re more likely to be bored and miserable every time you look at it.
If, however, you write down the ways this research paper is going to contribute to your future and what you hope to accomplish having written it, and THEN put your to-do list under that, you have a much clearer idea of what you’re doing it all for. Cue more motivation and drive.
The key is breaking it down to actionable steps, right down to the tiny stuff you wouldn’t normally consider. And don’t write down the next step until you have completed the one prior. That way, you are far less overwhelmed.
Sticking to the research paper example, the first step is of course doing the research for your topic, so start by writing down how many articles and books you’d need to find, and go looking. If you need to clear out your work space in order to minimize distractions when you write, mention that too. So long as you’re doing something that gets you closer to the final goal of having a completed, revised, solid draft by deadline, it’s part of the action plan.
It works even better if your “Goals” are written in future tense. Not “I want,” but “I will.” Be authoritative, be encouraging, write motivating notes in the margins. Prioritize your list and sub-lists into the most important goals and tasks to achieve them. Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t get to them all.
You don’t have to do every single thing on the list. As long as you’ve gotten closer to your goal by the end of the day than you were the day before, you’ve succeeded. You’ll feel like you’ve succeeded.
So why does this work?
Little things add up to big things. Logically, we know this. But when we’re caught up in all the little things and have no time to think of anything except the next task, we lose sight of the big thing. We get bored. We get tired. We get cranky and irritable and demotivated and our list becomes the bogeyman that haunts us at night.
An action plan helps you remember what you’re doing it all for. It puts your to-do list into perspective, allowing you to see how these little things are going to help you get where you want to be. You might even find yourself excited to get to some of the stuff on there.
(It’s also got a cool name. Think about it. “Action plan.” Dynamic, yes? Imagine if heroes saved the day with a masterful “to-do list.” Not as fun.)
So if you’re feeling like there’s too much to do, not enough motivation to do them, and that a nap sounds better than even looking at your tasks, ditch the to-do list and get yourself an action plan.
…Even if only for the cool name.SEE ALL STORIES