We can ignore our Do Lists, or forget them or be bound to them or overwhelmed by them. If we aren’t careful, we can be ruled by them.
What if there was one list we knew we could count on for reliable guidance?
One short list.
I spent all day yesterday watching online video of the television drama series, The West Wing. At a time when my faith in the US government is weak, I feel some comfort from The West Wing’s fictional vision of people at the top making conscious decisions about how to steer our government using their integrity and intelligence and love. I took a nap at 4pm and then at 5pm rose to try to write this post. I failed *yay!* and instead watched more episodes until bedtime.
Writing this post was the only thing I had on my Do List yesterday, and I didn’t do it. It’s the one remaining thing on my Week’s Plan.
If you use A Simple System for Everything, “The Pilot” is the role you play when you make decisions to steer your life toward the important stuff and away from stuff that’s not as important. Then there are all the other roles you play in your work, at home, with friends, as a professional, as a lover…. In each of these roles you have ideas about what needs to be done, and in each of these roles you make decisions that effect the other roles. As I wrote in The Paradox of a Passionate Life, many of these decisions get made unconsciously. As you develop your role as The Pilot, you get better at making plans and prioritizing so that your life aligns with your values; ie, more and more, you live a passionate life.
The problem comes when the Pilot loses value. You let one of your other roles dominate your decisions or you let your emotions control instead of inform you. You ignore or forget or discard the decisions you make as a Pilot.
The West Wing gives us a beautifully comforting ideal:
Deliberate, informed, heartfelt decisions, made rationally and acted upon, make our lives better and the world a better place.
Most of us can’t do that all of the time, but we can do it more of the time. And the more we do it, the easier it is to do it more. That’s why when it comes to Do Lists, there is one list that rules all the others.
It’s your Week’s Plan.
A Week’s Plan, at its best, is a list of 3-7 roles you want to pay attention to in a given week and 1 goal for each role. It’s a short list, and if the 3-7 goals are crafted well, you will likely do everything on the list. Here’s the clincher:
Your Week’s Plan should clearly map out your best chance at having a great week.
Here’s another clincher:
You should never use your Week’s Plan as a way to get a lot done.
And here is how to Plan a Great Week in 20 minutes.
What you might also find helpful is how all your Do Lists can work together. In the Kingdom of Listopia, here is a simple model for how the Week’s Plan operates as the Benevolent Ruler of all other Lists.
The Ruler: Your Week’s Plan
The Week’s Plan is your best reminder of what’s most important to you. It lists the decisions you made that will help you move your life in a direction that feels right to you. You took precious time to make these decisions. Your Pilot evoked the values of The West Wing staff: “deliberate, informed, heartfelt decisions are the best I can do.” Your job as Pilot is to keep your Week’s Plan handy so you can see it and remember those decisions. A good ruler is firm and decisive by nature and flexible when necessary (at least on The West Wing). When it comes time to do the items on your Week’s Plan, do them.
The Assistant: Your Day’s Plan
The Assistant keeps your day running smoothly and pushes distractions aside so you can focus on what’s at hand. As Assistant, your Day’s Plan is a short, prioritized Do List that links some of the items to your schedule. At best, your Day’s Plan also sets up opportunities to find Flow. The Week’s Plan sets your overall priorities, so your Day’s Plan should reflect those priorities. Here’s how to Plan a Great Day in 2 Minutes.
Specialists: Projects’ Do Lists
During the day you may need to focus on a specific project. Do not list every little thing you need to do for a project on your Day’s Plan; instead, keep separate Do Lists for each project. These are the Specialists in the Kingdom of Listopia. Let them do their job, when the time is right.
This is where the concept of context from David Allen’s Getting Things Done can come in handy. If you have a list of house projects you need to work on, put them in the spot where you work on your home. If you have a specific project for a client, keep a folder with all the things you need to do for that Client. Then, when you are ready to work on that project, pull out the one list. I call them Don’t (Yet) Lists, because when an idea comes to you, but it’s not the right time to pay attention to it, put it on a Don’t (Yet) List, put it with the right project, and stay focused on what your Assistant (The Day’s Plan) set up for you.
This is not an endorsement of tidiness. If you are an Artist who works best with everything spread out or a Scientist or Entrepreneur whose note-bound whiteboard is a source of inspiration, don’t change that! Just don’t clutter up your Day’s Plan or your Week’s Plan with random thoughts. Find the right mess for your muses.
A Ruler looks to Advisors for guidance. These include your notebooks, your inspirational reading, your reflections, your brillant ideas that come to you in the middle of the night, and the little sticky note on your dashboard. Keep writing them. Consult with them regularly, and especially when you make your Week’s Plan. With their advice, the Pilot can create an informed, heartfelt, and conscious plan for the week.
Then, let that one short list rule.