Motivational Tip #3 – Writing Down All Your Projects

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When I have been working with people to improve their efficiency one of the most common complaints is that they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

Two years ago I was having a introductory meeting with a new student and she told me something very interesting:

“I really want to become better at time management and I have worked at it a lot, I have a weekly plan, I prioritize it, but still when I get ready to start I just feel like there are so many other things I should do. I feel overwhelmed and start running in circles in my mind. All of a sudden an hour has gone by and I haven’t done anything, is there any way to cure this”

This is a very common problem, I am sure you have felt it yourself at one point or another.

Know everything that needs to be done
In David Allen’s book Getting Things Done he shares a great tip about how to solve this problem.

Keeping an overview of everything that needs to be done makes it easier to focus at one at a time.

This might feel stressful
The first time my wife listed everything she needed to do it was because I had told her to do it about 2000 times, to shut me up she finally did it. The reason she didn’t want to do it was that she was afraid that looking at that list would make it all more real and make her even more stressed.

It is keeping it in your mind that makes you stressed.
When you have to constantly think about and remind yourself about everything that needs to be done you become stressed, you can never put anything away.

Getting it onto a list makes it a lot easier, you can put it aside for the time being knowing you will come back to it soon.

You know what you are working on
Listen to your mind, what are you thinking about? What projects need to be done?
Write down everything, small and large on a list.

Identifying next actions
By identifying next actions you will have an easy actionable list. Things become smaller; you can do this little thing to move the project forward. It also helps you from having to think about what needs to be done every time you pick up a new task.

You know you aren’t missing something
When you know you aren’t missing anything you can focus and start working on task number one. This will make you much more efficient and make that list smaller making you even less stressed.

Quickly you can start to get into a positive spiral and become more and more efficient.

1. Create a list of all your projects.
2. Make an action list with all the next actions you need to take on those projects.
3. Add them to your calendar.
4. Prioritize you daily list.
5. Start on task number 1.

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Related posts:

  1. Motivational Tip #4 – Learning Time Management
  2. A Great Stress Relief Method – Writing Things Down
  3. Motivational Tip #7 – Letting it all out, Singing, Screaming
  4. Motivational Tip #1 – Setting Your Goals
  5. Motivational Tip #2 – Planning for Your Goals
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26 Responses to Motivational Tip #3 – Writing Down All Your Projects

  1. Daniel, I VERY much believe in this one. Possibly because I have Adult ADD (I moved twelve times in ten years before I knew it). I am terrible when I try to remember something in my head. Writing everything down and OVERcommunicating has really helped me to get things done.

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Hey Bryan,

      That is a great example of how this can help.
      12 moves in 10 years, that is kind of rough. For me it takes about 12 months before you are settled in.

      How has having Adult ADD affected your life other than the moving?

  2. Hi Daniel,
    This is one post I heartily endorse. Writing stuff down instead of letting it rattle around in your brain unattended is a great stress reducer for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. It puts things into proper perspective and often the problem isn’t as large or formidable as you imagined. Good post.

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Thanks a lot Riley.
      It has been really useful for me to use this technique.

      Have you tried it out? How has it worked for you?

  3. This is great tip Daniel.

    I’m wondering, how did your wife feel about her list after looking at it from this point of view? I mean getting it out of your mind and onto something you have more control over.

    This is such a great way to look at this. I can relate to your wife’s thought about being overwhelmed with a list that has a million things on it. I also agree with you that getting things down in writing allows you to complete tasks much more efficiently.

    And the best part? You can check them off one by one as they get done. Can’t do that nearly as easily in your brain:) Now that’s rewarding!


    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      The reason it took her so long to start listening to me was because she was afraid that looking at the list would make it even worse. I told her that since she now was trying to remember the whole list she had to keep repeating it to herself, which in fact is even worse.

      After she started using to-do lists she has become loyal to the method. That said, she hasn’t always used her time that well, she often would take the easiest ones first or just remember something not even on the list that she felt she should do.

      Lately though she has been so bogged down with work that she realized she had no choice but to work more efficiently. Today she uses the ABC-method and a Calendar to focus her efforts.

      Her efficiency has gone through the roof and she completes almost every task on her to do list every day, and the tasks she doesn’t complete are usually the least important :)

  4. Sometimes I start with item #3 or the last one on the list.

    One simple reason, we tend to list what we feel is urgent and but not really important at the top position. What we really need to get done today is often buried in the list, our mind plays these little tricks on us.

    How do you build your to-do list?

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      That is a great little method John.
      I try to build my list in a way that avoids that problem.

      I use a combination of the quadrant 2 mindset that Stephen Covey shares in his book “7 habits of highly effective people” (Important, but not urgent – are your most important tasks really) and the ABC-method for prioritizing.

      First I list everything I need to get done, then I go through them one by one and assign them a letter A,B or C. Based on their order of importance.
      Once that is done I’ll give each task within each letter a number priority e.g. A-1, A-2 …

      That way I know what is really the most important thing for me to do.

      Have you tried this method? What do you do when you build your list?

  5. As the saying goes, the faintest ink is better than the best memory.

    If we try to keep every task or project on our mental to-do list, it only occupies space that could be used for creative thinking.

    Write it down and let your mind breathe.

    Good tip! Thanks,

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      I had never heard that quote, but it was a really interesting way of putting it, I have saved it in my quote database!

      Thanks a lot Wim.

      Do you use mindmaps and lists a lot to help the creative process or do you just use lists to get things out of your mind?

      • Great quote, isn’t it? It’s a chinese proverb if I remember well… Should have written it down, you see ;)

        I use to-do lists as well as mindmaps, depends on the task or project I’m working on. For the mindmaps I use Mindjet Mindmanager, which I can highly recommend!

        • Daniel M. Wood says:

          It is hard to always remember where those great quotes come from, isn’t it.

          Mind maps are great, I use Freemind it is a very simple, free program that does wonders for creative thinking.
          I’ll take a look at Mindjet Mindmanager though :)

          Thanks Wim, great post today by the way!

  6. Keith Davis says:

    Hi Dan
    I’ve always been a list man – my wife calls me neurotic, but a list is a great way of setting things out in order and then relaxing.

    Love Wim’s quote…

    “Write it down and let your mind breathe.”

    Might steal that. LOL

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      He had a few great quotes to share, didn’t he ;)
      I over use lists as well, but it does make you much more efficient, doesn’t it?
      How do you prioritize your lists, do you use the ABCDE-method?

  7. Y8 says:

    I can relate to this problem everyday I think of something that had to be done but ending up with doing nothing. Maybe, I think too much my room is even a messed I always think of helping others but I can even help myself. I think I’m overwhelmed my body can’t keep up with what I’m thinking. Currently, I’ve been doing things step by step one at a time starting with my room and I think I’m on the right track.

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Taking everything one step at a time really makes things easier. It is when you start biting off more than you can chew that things get difficult.
      Braking big projects into small tasks makes it feel less daunting as well.

  8. sometime i easily get distracted from endeavoring to achieving my immediate goal in obtaining a High school diploma, earning a California Drivers License,purchase a car, and finding gainful employment at the age of 48 until i get so discourage and give up and settle for a life of boredom and mediocrity.

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Hey Ronald,

      Many don’t dare do that little extra because they are afraid it will feel odd.
      It is better to try and succeed, maybe feeling a little odd on the way, they never trying.

      I think you could get a drivers license, get a diploma and meaningful employment even if you were 60.

  9. Pingback: Demasiado estres? | Activa Negocios

  10. Timo Kiander says:


    I agree.

    Putting down everything to a list clears your mind clutter.

    How often should I do this kind of brain dump?


    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      I do it continuously all the time. I always have a notebook on me so that I can write things down.
      The less you have in your mind the easier it is to focus.

      If you don’t have the chance to have a notebook or a dictaphone on you, at least once a week.

      What do you think?

  11. Timo Kiander says:

    Makes sense. There are always new things coming that should be put to paper or some place else where you can find them.

  12. sissi says:

    Hi Dan

    thank you for your sharing~~xixi~~
    It really does work~~I always take a notebook with me wherever i go and to write down some stuff. otherwise, it is a good way to write our life~~xixi~~

    may you happy every day!


  13. Jon Sollie says:

    Great responses! A well thought out list can be invaluable when important tasks need to be accomplished. Once list making becomes routine, life gets better, and far, far more productive.

    An added thought…as we age and our memories start slippin and slidin, those lists take on a whole new meaning!

    Let’s see now, I know I made a list, but where did I put it?

    All the best,


    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Hey Jon.

      Great point.
      I find use of lists now, but I am sure that I will need it more in 20-30 years.
      Like you said, now just find the list :)

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