A quick hack to stay productive.
It has been one year since I vowed to use plain-text lists as a hack to increase my goal achievement rates. The outcome was highly positive, and I’d like to tell you what worked for me and what didn’t.
Okay, so the 4 lists that I made were:
1. LONG TERM GOALS
This list should contain all the goals that you wish to achieve over the next 1 — 3 years. This list should be reviewed once per month to help you stay on track. It’s OK to be a little unrealistic here, but don’t overshoot. Being a little unrealistic helps to keep your motivation levels pumped up because of the joy associated with the completion of a goal.
TIP: Write in first person. It keeps the motivation high when you review the items.
- GOOD: I want to become the best chef in the world.
- GOOD: I want to apply for grad school.
- BAD: Land on Mars.
2. SHORT TERM GOALS
This list should contain the tasks (or sub-tasks) that you want to complete within the next 1 — 2 weeks. This list should be reviewed once per day or once every two days to stay on track. These items should be realistic and manageable with the given time-frame. Overshooting and being unrealistic about your goals here is bad because if at the end of the week you realize that you didn’t meet your goals, it would have a huge negative impact on your motivation levels.
TIP: Items should be descriptive and specific. Don’t overflow the list, keep sufficient amount of free time allocated for sleep and exercise.
- GOOD: Learn to make the special Sushi dish.
- GOOD: Complete the ‘Basic Design Fundamentals’ course on Coursera.
- BAD: Learn Spanish. (overshooting)
3. PENDING ACTIONS
This list acts like a temporary storage area for any tasks that are pending or any task that has an immediate deadline. Whenever you do a task that requires you to take some action after a small amount of time, add that task to this list. When you complete the pending task, just remove that task from this list. This list can be reviewed multiple times in a day.
TIP: Be specific when listing the items.
- GOOD: Reply to Alice by Tuesday about shipment order #123.
- GOOD: Wish happy birthday to Bob.
- BAD: Pay bill. (item not very specific)
The importance of this list cannot be understated. Use this list to document all the work that you have completed and want added to your achievements. Add to this list as you keep accomplishing the goals from your short term goals list. Keep descriptions short, yet complete. This will be your “master” list of achievements, and will easily let you add the correct and complete information to your Resume/CV at a later point in time. This list will also come handy if ever you plan to write your autobiography.
This is a popular approach used by many professionals all over the world. There is an excellent post by Josh Tyler which describes this approach.
TIP: Try to write in detail, and don’t forget to mention the date and/or time of the achievement.
- GOOD: Nov 15, 2014 — Presented a talk on “How to Achieve your Goals” at the National Management Center, New Delhi.
- GOOD: Oct 4, 2014 — Completed the “Design 101″ course from Coursera and got a certificate of accomplishment with distinction.
- BAD: Developed new website. (no extra details; vague)
A note about the tools that I used
To avoid unnecessary complexities and distraction while working with the lists, I used a simple text editor called Sublime Text. I chose Sublime because it can open multiple notes in tabs inside a single window. It’s more like the “Google Chrome of text editors”. Plus, it has some handy shortcuts, if you take the trouble to look em’ up.
You can also use other online/offline note making services/softwares like Evernote, or something else that you like. I have all these text notes synced with Google Drive for access on my mobile and to prevent any loss of data.