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One of the guys I’ve been coaching recently asked me for some tips on being more productive each day. One thing that’s been a big part of my life for the last 6 or 7 years is writing a daily action plan (a to-do list) and ticking everything off each day.

I’ll grab a sticky-note or piece of paper, jot down the main things I want to get done that day, and cross each one off as I go. Writing a quick list like this every morning means you know what you’re going to do every day – you’ll never feel “lost” & you’ll never be bored. You’ll have a general plan for the day, you’ll feel more productive and you’ll get a LOT more done.

Sunday's Todo List

Keep it Short

It shouldn’t be a massive list with 100 items on it – make it a list you can comfortably finish off in a day. Once you complete it, if you have extra free time you can deside what “bonus” things you’d like to do as well. There’s no point writing a list of 30 items and then only doing 9 of them – even though you achieved 9 goals (a success), you’ll feel like a total failure for not doing all 30. Keep your action plan realistic and achieveable (completeable) each day.

If you have any big (long-term) goals you’re working on, every day add 1 small step you can take to your list. Eg if your goal is to lose 20kg, each day write down “count my calories” or “run on the treadmill for 30 minutes”. Big goals are achieved with 1 small baby step at a time.


The Cure for Depression

A daily action plan also helps pull you out of depression, by keeping you busy & occupied (sitting around idle and feeling unproductive is a sure-fire way to sink further into depression). And the more things you tick off your daily to-do list, the more you’ll feel like you’re actually doing something, rather than sitting around depressed. Each thing you tick off is like a tiny victory, a rebellion against that helpless feeling and the “what’s the point?” hopelessness that depression brings. Over time you’ll add up more and more of these tiny little victories & your success will snowball over days, then weeks, then months, then years.

I have my parents to thank for this idea – I was chronically depressed and suicidal as a teenager and into my early 20’s. I eventually had a massive breakdown and moved back home to live with my parents. Every morning my mum would write me a todo list every day of chores and things to do around the house – little things like “do the dishes”, “mow the lawn”, “put the garbage out”, “work on your resume for 10 minutes”, etc. I remember saying to her, “My life isn’t worth living, what the hell is the point of doing these meaningless, stupid tasks? There’s no point to anything.” She told me to just shut up and do them, even if I didn’t feel like it. When you’re depressed, you have to just take small steps each day, regardless of how you’re feeling.

I forced myself to do those silly “meaningless” tasks, and slowly over a few days I started to feel at least a little productive. I started adding more meaningful tasks to the list, eventually getting a job, making new friends, losing weight, and moving back out of home again. Looking back, I absolutely could not be where I am today if I had not taken those first few tiny, seemingly-insignificant baby steps to start moving away from depression and towards an awesome life.

Jordan Peterson has a similar philosophy – he advocates cleaning your room as a way of taking control of your life. It seems like such a minor thing, but cleaning your room and setting your personal belongings in order is the first step in being master of your own destiny. You’ll be sitting in your newly-tidied room, proud of how great it looks. You’ll think, “Hmm, what can I do next? Maybe I’ll tidy up the kitchen.” You’ll tidy that too, then you’ll start thinking of other things to do. “Maybe I’ll go for a walk and spend time around other people again.”
“Maybe I’ll finally work on my resume and start applying for jobs properly.”
“Maybe I’ll join a new sports club and make some friends.”

Success will snowball, and before you know it, you’ll be building good habits, adding up those small victories one at a time, and building a healthy and happy life.


The Takeaway

Every morning when you first get up, spend 5 minutes thinking about what you want your day to look like. Write it down on a piece of paper or sticky-note, and then have fun ticking each one of those things off, celebrating each little victory. Add up 365 days worth of those little victories, and you’ll have a pretty awesome year.