Top Five Rules for a To-Do List that REALLY works

By Sara Caputo

People often ask me what tool I rely on most to stay on track, focused and productive. Hands down, it is my to-do list, AKA my “second brain”. I call it a second brain because it literally houses information for me that I can’t and don’t want to hold in the brain inside my head. It holds the minutiae, the details, the doodles, the little things that help my world stay balanced.

It’s important to get these things out of our heads so our minds can be free to do the REAL work, like think and solve problems. When our minds are bogged down with the minutiae, it can’t get to the “good” stuff!

I have become very passionate about this area of my business and I offer “to-do list/task management” coaching. While many smile and look at me as though I’m crazy, once we get into talking about their space, time and tasks, this piece of their puzzle quickly becomes the most important part to get clear about. Why?

Because we have a million things coming at us every day. It’s impossible to hold all of this in our heads and still be calm, collected and, most importantly, focused on the task in front of us without trying to remember that we have to return that phone call or pick up the dry cleaning.

Here are my top 5 to-do list tips:

1. Understand the different lists you might need.

Your to-do list should not be a mish-mash of everything you need to do in the next 6 months. For this, you need a MASTER to-do list. To break tasks down and not feel overwhelmed, most people need a daily to-do list and a master to-do list. Can you quickly identify items that would go on each? Often what I see is people using their MASTER to-do list as their daily, which immediately leads to frustration and limited productivity.

So, tip #1 is to break apart your current to-do list and create a master project list.

2. Be specific.

A large reason that most people don’t get through their daily to-do list is because the items they have listed are too big and not specific enough. The steps to a project are what constitute as to-do items, not the project title itself. The project title belongs on your master project list, while the steps involved in accomplishing that project are what belong on your daily list.

For example: Sales Management Team Meeting is the title of the project and the steps are: calls you need to make, rooms you need to reserve, delegations to others involved, agendas that need to be created, catering, etc… These would be broken down and on your daily list.

3. Cross things off when you are done.

One of the biggest culprits to not feeling successful at the end of the day is when we don’t take time to cross things off as we go. When we do this, we are able to look back on our day and feel like we made some progress, even if it was only a small amount. Ultimately, when there are many things left on your list and the end of the day is approaching, crossing off what you have done is a good practice and helps you make decisions about what else you have time to accomplish.

4. Review and process all lists on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Just as our email inbox needs to be processed and dealt with on a daily basis, so do our task lists. I personally re-create my daily list every single day. At the end of the day, I start the next page with the date at the top and rip out the current day. This forces me to move things forward and process where I’m at with my tasks. If something didn’t get done, it goes back on the master list. If I have time the next day, it goes on that day. The same goes for master project lists. Let them stack up for a month and then re-write them.

Whether you do this on an excel spreadsheet, using Microsoft One Note or a plain old notebook, lists need to be processed and thus constantly move in a forward direction. A huge value in re-writing and re-processing lists is that, once you write it down and it’s out of your head, your brain actually starts working on that task in subtle ways, which means you’re getting ahead before you even start!

5. Take your to-do list with you everywhere you go. (And do the same for your home/personal life).

Many people make great lists, but don’t have them when they need them most. If you are going to invest time and effort into the creation of lists, then by all means, take them with you! This way, you can be constantly assessing and moving things around based on where you are with your day. This allows you to be in total control of what you have done, need to do and plan to do. You wouldn’t leave home without your first brain, so why leave home without your second brain?

New Feature Launched: Life Balance Wheel

We launched a new feature called Life Balance Wheel. From now on, on your Reports page, at the bottom of the link menu to the right, you should see a new link called “Life Balance Wheel”. This link will show you a page displaying four life balance wheel charts, indicating how balanced you are in four different metrics: Goals, Action, Habits and Hours.

To switch on / off reporting items on each chart, just click on the title bullet points. Be default they will be all display on the chart.

By definition of the chart, if you see a shape that most resembles a circle, then it means you are very balanced in different goal categories.

If you have defined many goal categories, they may not show clearly on the charts. If this is the case, try removing some of your old goals in order to reduce the number of total category names.

Hope you like the new reporting charts, and let us know if you have any feedback or comments.

Are You a Goal-Getter?

7 steps to achieving your goals

By Scott Halford

I recently overheard someone reply, when asked about her holiday weekend, “It was successful. My New Year’s resolution is to overeat on every major holiday. I figure I’m going to do it anyway; why not make it a goal I can actually keep?” I had to laugh. It made me think about the goals we create in our lives and in our businesses.

Many fall into one of two major categories. The first category is goals we set that we have a 95 percent chance of accomplishing–mostly because we have done it before, so the likelihood is high that we’ll succeed. (Our overeater above almost didn’t pig out because she was feeling poorly. But she pulled herself together and gorged.) The other category is goals where there is a 95 percent degree of uncertainty that we’ll accomplish them, and we have never done it before, but we would like to. There are benefits to both kinds of goals.

You might think the first kind of goal is for slackers, but there is some value in setting goals that you’re confident you’ll achieve. Using that confidence as a springboard for trying new things can be a useful thing–kind of like doing the perfect swan dive as a warm-up for an Olympic-caliber diver. The problem is if you stop at those, you don’t get to really compete with the big dogs.

Let’s dive into the second kind of goal–the uncertain one.

Goal-setting has been written about every which way. This article is a little bit about setting, but more about accomplishing the goal. The kind of goals you set is certainly important, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume you’re setting an uncertain goal that has some reasonable chance of success. The human brain is set up to help you achieve goals that you sincerely believe are achievable. If you want to stretch yourself or your business to new heights, here are my thoughts on goal-setting and goal-getting.

  1. Dream, but be motivated.
    It’s OK to dream and have big goals. But if you’re actually going to accomplish them, you have to DO something about them, and that takes motivation. The very first thing you need to achieve a goal is a reason and deep desire to achieve it. The path to achieving goals is fraught with boredom, excuses and difficulty. You will have a lot of opportunities to talk yourself out of the goal. But if you can keep going back to the reason and your desire for the goal, those will help you stay on track.
  2. Break it down into 24-hour bites.
    The brain has a built in B.S. monitor that rings out when all you do is set an enormous goal but then don’t manage it to 24-hour cycles–daily mini goals. If your goal is to shed 50 pounds, your brain doesn’t see you 50 pounds lighter in 24 hours, but it can see you five ounces lighter in that time. Set your goals so that your B.S. alarm doesn’t go off. To prevent that alarm bell, the mini goal must be reasonable and sustainable. Losing one pound in a day is doable, but it’s not reasonable or sustainable, so the B.S. sentinel will scream its head off, and you’ll eventually stop going after your big goal.
  3. Do something daily.
    Nothing replaces repetition and creating momentum like doing something to get you closer to your goal every day. You will naturally take some time off, but if you don’t take seriously the first 30 days of work on the goal and use them to create momentum, it’s almost guaranteed you won’t get there. The first 30 days are critical to convincing your B.S. monitor that you’re serious. Organizationally, it convinces colleagues you’re serious.
  4. Adapt and adjust.
    As you work on your daily mini goals and toward the bigger goal, be willing to adapt. Make the mini goals more difficult if they seem too easy. Make them easier if they become too taxing. The main thing is that if your brain deems the mini goal to be too difficult, you’ll quit. If it’s too easy, you’re running in place. Find the middle so you have advancement each day.
  5. Feedback and reward.
    The human brain responds to two things to learn and attain new behaviors and knowledge: feedback and reward. As you go about your goal-getting, be brave enough to request feedback from others, and then reward yourself each day for accomplishing your little goals. Research has shown that even keeping a calendar where you put a little gold star on the days you are successful (a la kindergarten) can be effective positive reinforcement. The visual is enough reward for the brain to know it’s doing something right.
  6. Schedule slop time.
    When I was a television news producer, the worst thing you could do going into a newscast is be so tightly scheduled that there was no room for error. Every newscast was filled with anchors reading more slowly than you counted on, reports going longer than they were supposed to and other time-gobblers. The good producers always included “slop time” in their show. They would leave one to two minutes of unscheduled time to be stolen by the gobblers. You should do the same with your goals. Schedule time when you’re not focused on your goal, when you get to cheat on it or not do it at all. You’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well allow yourself the room to be human so you don’t feel dejected by temporarily ignoring your goal. Just don’t make it a habit.
  7. Know you’re going to get bored.
    Doing something in small pieces each day can lead to boredom. Do it anyway. Achieving goals isn’t always about a daily cork-popping ceremony to celebrate something sensational you did. It’s usually about sticking to the daily, boring small stuff. Get that right, make it slightly more difficult each day, and do it again and again. People who achieve their goals usually do it because they kept going when it gets tough and boring.

There is no secret formula to success. Sure, luck comes into play, but it’s foolhardy to count on that. Mostly, it’s having a direction and place you want to get to and then showing up for the daily grind. Hopefully, it’s not about overeating. Go get ’em.

Upcoming New Feature – Life Balance Wheel

One of the keys to successful goal organization and management is to have a balanced focus on major areas in life. To make this process easier and more visual, we are about to launch a new feature called “Life Balance Wheel”. Basically you will see a new report chart page showing how balanced you are with your goals, tasks, habits and time allocation for each of your goal categories.

We’re still beta testing it to make sure it works with all major browsers. But it should be ready very soon. If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to let us know.

Btw, another update to the iPhone app will be released this week. Please do let us know if you still find bugs in it.


A New Approach to Goal Setting

By Cameron at

We’ve all been exposed to ideas about goal-setting. Some of us love goals, and ardently set them, pursue them, and complete them. Some of us set some goals, but don’t end up following through. And some of us are so turned off of the idea of goals altogether – due to past failures, perhaps, or in resistance to the idea that we “have to” set them – that we don’t even bother.

I’d like to talk about a very practical method of goal-setting that takes a lot of the pressure off and increases results. Before I do though, let’s figure out why we would set goals in the first place.

For one, our minds are habitual machines. Most of what we do, think, and feel is exactly the same as the things we did, thought, and felt yesterday. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to how you brush your teeth or towel yourself off after a shower – you do it in the same way or same pattern EVERY DAY, day in day out. How does this relate to goals? Well if most of our behavior is pretty much on auto-pilot,then nothing changes until we consciously do something new.

In order to do something new, we need to know the second most important piece of the puzzle: our minds are goal-seeking mechanisms. In other words, whatever we focus on, our mind sees it as a goal to be achieved and will begin coming up with strategies, behaviors and ideas that will help to achieve that goal.

Just think about the last time you were trying not to fall down by saying to yourself “don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall!”? What happened? You fell. What were you imagining in your mind? Yourself falling down. Your brain got the picture of you falling down and went “ok, we can do that” and caused you to fall down. This is just how the mind works.

So to relate this to fitness goals, we might as well get our minds on our side and start picturing where we want to go. Whether it’s an increased level of flexibility we want, a certain weight we wish to achieve, or a certain level of muscle mass we’d like to be sporting, the process will be MUCH easier if we’re giving our brain pictures of where we want to go.

This is why having a goal is so valuable, because it gives us a target to move towards, and something to measure our improvements against. It’s the same reason why, when you go on a trip, you have a destination in mind – so you know where to go! If you went to the ticket agent at an airport, and she asked you where you’d like to go, the answer “I don’t know…anywhere but here” would not be much help! She would need a definite destination, just as we do when setting fitness goals.

Now all of this might make a lot of sense, but there still may be an emotional aversion to goal-setting – the reason why does not matter.

Here’s a way around it. It’s called the “Minimum, Target, and Outrageous”, or MTO, system of goal-setting. It’s very simple and works like this:

You set 3 different goals for yourself, a minimum goal, a target goal, and an outrageous goal.

So let’s say I haven’t been active for years and I want to get back into shape. I could set the goals as follows:

  • minimum goal – 5 minutes of light cardio per day, 5 days per week;
  • target goal – 15 minutes of light cardio per day, 5 days per week;
  • outrageous goal – 45 minutes of light cardio 5 days per week.

The beauty of this system is that the minimum goal is so easy, success will be a breeze. Anyone can spare 5 minutes, 5 days per week to do some light cardio. Even better, though, is the fact that once you’re already out there doing your minimum goal, you’ll probably just keep going to reach your target goal, because you’ve already started, and that’s half the battle right there.

Then, on certain days, if you’re feeling particularly inspired, you can go for the gusto and reach for the outrageous goal. Either way, you’re successful. The minimum goal is so easy, you won’t be able to justify not doing it. Once you’re out there, you’ll probably end up going for the target or outrageous goal, and this will leave you feeling like you over-achieved, which is a great feeling!

Of course, this could be applied to anything – weight loss goals, muscle mass goals, healthy eating goals, you name it.

What matters is that you set a target and give yourself the support and structure that will facilitate real progress. With the MTO goal system, you are taking the pressure right off and giving yourself those great feelings of success every time you get out there and take action.

So if you’re someone who has struggled with setting and achieving goals in the past, this might be the ticket to get you into action and feeling capable and motivated as you never have before. Enjoy!

Ten Steps to Success In Anything

By Allen Loomis

It does not matter how big your goal or dream is, this ten step guide will enable you to achieve success in anything. Have you ever wondered if there was something more you should be doing with your life? I often wondered that very same question before I got interested in the self improvement field.

My childhood was encompassed by a series of failures. My mother was a great person, but I often wondered why she failed over, and over again. What’s the difference that makes the difference between her and someone successful?

I came to the conclusion that continuous action in the right direction was the solution. My mother always worked hard, but she worked hard for everyone else. She never worked hard to better her own circumstances. She worked her full time job, saved as little as she could, until the next problem would arise and everything was lost. She wasn’t taking the right actions. You have to be focused on what you want, figure out a plan towards that goal, with the main focus point to learn as much as you can along the way. Take continuous action with this ambition, and watch your life unfold the way it should.

Here is my plan, that I use for every goal I make. I give it to you in hope that you will use it to unlock your full potential. Success Demands Action. Using this plan for your dreams and goals is the first step. Go through the ten steps below to accomplish any goal. Make yourself a Success binder with tabs for each step. Will you take action?

1. Make the Choice

Get clear on what you want. True success does not happen by accident. You have to choose to be successful. What’s your choice? Will you take the action necessary to reach your goal, at all costs?

If your answer is yes please use this affirmation and read it out loud each morning before you wake up and each night before you go to bed.

“I (Your name) promise myself to take continuous action every day to achieve my goals and dreams. Each day in every way I am becoming more and more successful. My Success is simply just a matter of time. I have made the choice to be successful. I am taking action.”

2. What’s your purpose?

Why do you wish to accomplish this goal? There needs to be a purpose other than just wanting to make a boat load of money.

Answer these questions and go over them at least once a week.

What can this goal do for others?
How will accomplishing this goal change my life?
How would this goal leave the world a better place?

3. What are you good at?

I believe that everyone has certain gifts. Make a list of all the things you are good at that relate to your goal. Be specific, state how each one of these talents will help you reach your goals.

4. The one hour Success System

This process is designed to calm, enlighten, inspire, and heighten your imagination. Starting out each day right, is key to making each day successful.

Daily One Hour Success System

  • 10 minutes of eating fresh fruit and stretching.
  • 10 minutes of reading daily Self Improvement topics.
  • 20 minutes meditating.
  • 20 minutes writing your thoughts in a journal.

5. Make A Time Line

Break your main goal down into several smaller goals and pick an exact date when you plan on accomplishing each goal. Being specific and precise is key. I would break your goal down into 5 small goals. The last goal of the time line being your main goal.

6. Why must you achieve this?

List all the material reasons why you want to achieve this goal. Be as greedy as you would like.

7. What would happen if you did not achieve this?

Make a list on all the reasons that you do not want to fail. Go over this list often. List how the goal will benefit your life, and how it will burden you if you don’t. We all have neuron pathways that are created based off of our current beliefs. These pathways create impulses that create how we act underneath our conscious mind. When we change our beliefs we change our neuron path ways. One of the easiest ways to change a belief is by associating pain with that belief. Make sure you list all the reasons you want to achieve your goal, and all the reasons why your life would be painful if you do not.

8. Seek Out Smarter People

We cannot possibly be a expert in everything. Successful people leave clues. Seek out other people who are successful that can help you along the way. Leverage other peoples knowledge to help increase your circumstances.

9. Exceed Expectations

Always give it your all, one hundred and ten percent. Don’t tell the world what you can do, show it.

10. Develop the Action habit

Make a plan each night for the next day. Manage your time well, and you will make the most out of each day. The more action you can take each day, the sooner you will reach your goal.

Become Process Driven

By Keith Rosen, MCC

(Admin’s note: Though the article is about reaching sales goals, it applies very well in other types of goals in general.)

Are you hitting your numbers? How many follow-up calls did you make today? How much good volume did you book this month? How many leads did you run this week?

These questions are relentlessly driven into our heads and for good reason. Like many sales professionals, there’s often pressure to reach quota or a certain level of acceptable performance. While having a monthly sales goal keeps your eye on the prize and your focus on the end result, it may actually do more harm than good.

I often hear salespeople say, “Results aren’t showing up fast enough.” At the end of each selling month, frustration and stress/overwhelm run rampant as salespeople scramble to do their best to close sales and meet their numbers.

If selling is transference of feeling, imagine the feeling that you’re transferring to your prospects? The stress of having to close more sales and the anxiety you’re feeling inadvertently puts undue pressure on every prospect you speak with, fostering an unhealthy relationship from the start.

The irony is, this constant push to reach sales numbers keeps you hooked on the goal, diverting your efforts away from refining the selling process needed to generate more business. The quandary then becomes, “I’m too busy to work on my process. I have numbers to meet!”

Consider this paradox; the result is the process. In other words, what if you shifted most of your attention away from your goal or the end result and onto the process?

After all, what’s the point of eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream; to get to the end or to savor every bite? How about the goal of a self-care or an exercise regimen? Unless you’re in it to compete professionally, it’s to maintain a level of health, vitality and personal satisfaction.

The same holds true for measuring productivity, maintaining your peace of mind and experiencing a sense of achievement at the end of each day.

After all, you don’t do the result; you execute the process, which produces the result as a natural byproduct of your efforts. That’s the paradox. By honoring the process, you can enjoy the benefit of knowing that you will attain your goals, since it’s the process that will get you what you want. (Imagine building a house without a blueprint!)

To generate better results, you’re either changing what you do or changing how you think. To continually exceed your sales goals and better manage your mindset, change your thinking to become process driven rather than result driven.

Ask yourself, “Do I have a (sales, prospecting, follow up, time management, customer service) process in place that I can trust?” When you look at your daily schedule, does it outline the specific and measurable tasks and activities you need to engage in that will move you towards your goal?

Chances are, salespeople who are solely focused on the end result don’t have a process they have faith in. As such, they concentrate more on trying to control the outcome; pushing for what they want rather than managing their process. After all, you can’t trust and manage the process if you don’t have a process in place to do so!

Trying to achieve more without a process to guide you would be equivalent to driving from New York to California without a roadmap while wearing a blindfold. Not only can it be stressful but you’re bound to wind up somewhere else other than your intended destination.

Schedule a time with yourself to develop your process for attaining each goal or task that needs completing so that you can see the path you will be traveling on. Look back on the successful sales you’ve made as a starting point for developing your process. For example, if you’re looking to generate a certain number of sales each month, what activities do you need to engage in on a daily basis to do so? What skills or tools need further development? (Ex: Introductory cover letter/ email + prospecting and voice mail approach/template + frequency of calls/follow up = process driven.)

Once you have outlined a path and a success formula to follow (X # of calls produces X # of prospects which produces X # of sales), allow the doing or the process to be the reward and where the pleasure resides, not just the end result. This way, you can be responsible for your future goals without having to worry about them. If you continue your quest with your eyes focused on the finish line, you’ll miss out on the journey. Therefore, be careful not to hook yourself onto the future so that you can enjoy the process of reaching your goals today.

Knowing when enough is enough each day and the specific activities you need to engage in provides you with the freedom to trust the process you’ve put in place. After all, there’s always more to do. There’s always more that can be done at the office, at your home or in your life; another call that can be made or another email that can be read.

Exceeding your monthly sales quota will be the result of the cumulative efforts you make and the activities you engage in every day. When you’re mindful of the process, you now have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate your accomplishments on a daily basis (even the little ones) rather than pushing for or waiting until the “End.” (And when does that happen?)