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It’s hard to identify why some people are successful and others aren’t, especially when you look across a wide variety of career fields and activities, such as business, sports, and politics. However, one thing that many successful people across all walks of life have in common is that they keep lists. Lists that are written out in a notebook, journal, computer, or on a calendar help people remain conscious of critical thoughts so that they can live more deliberately and achieve long-term goals. In fact, many successful people keep more than one list on hand to remain mindful of all the important things in their lives. If you’re interested in increasing your productivity or becoming more focused on work and life, here are five lists you need to be successful.
1. A Goals List
One of the most important lists you should keep is a running list of your goals. What do you want to achieve in the short, intermediate, and long term? Having a list of goals written down somewhere prominently, such as in a notebook or on a whiteboard in your office, will help you remain mindful of what you want to achieve in life. Constantly being reminded of your goals will help you be prepared to take advantage of fleeting opportunities that can help you achieve them. Additionally, if you start (or are considering) projects or activities that don’t help you advance toward achieving your goals, this list can help signal you to re-think what you’re doing. Looking at this list regularly will also help you evaluate whether your goals all remain valid, so you can update them as things change and you decide to pursue other objectives in your life or career.
2. A Task List
One way to focus your productivity is with a “to do” or task list. A task list is comprised of things you need to complete in work or your personal life over the short term. Having tasks written out is another way to remain focused on what’s important so that you use your time and effort in support of things that advance your goals. When tracking your tasks, don’t merely put them on an abstract numbered list like you would other goals. If you don’t account for the time it’ll take to complete each of your tasks, you may not accomplish them when you want or need to, and that can end up adding stress to your life. Instead, list your tasks on your calendar, and assign an estimated time you expect each one to take to complete. Doing so will ensure you’ve matched the appropriate time to the level of effort you’ll need to expend to finish each task.
3. An Expense and Savings List
Along with time and effort, money is another important list you need to be successful. Many of your short- and long-term goals will involve money or finances; so, monitoring cash flow is an important part of gauging your progress. Each week, record all the expenditures you’re making on things such as food, gas, lodging, etc. You should also track how much money you’re saving or making. Programs such as Mint or QuickBooks can help you do this with little to no effort. At the end of each week, reconcile your expenses and savings with your goals list or your budget. Doing so will let you know if you’re on track to reach your goals or you need to adjust your financial habits to get back on track.
4. A Contacts List
The most successful people in any career field or organization didn’t get there alone; they leveraged a network of experts, mentors, and advocates to help guide their decision-making and reinforce their efforts. If you want to achieve your goals in your chosen career field or in your personal life, you need to start making a list of important contacts. Use your computer’s contact capturing system to record and organize the relevant people in your network. Beyond capturing their contact information, you should also write down why these people are relevant to you.
Finally, you keep notes on the last time you communicated with the people on your contact list. Your contacts list should highlight people who are exceptionally helpful in terms of providing advice, assisting with work, or opening doors for you, so you remember to call on them when you need help completing a particular task or achieving a goal.
5. A Contingencies List
Successful people also use lists to help them prepare for the unexpected. You should keep a list of contingencies you’d have to execute in case unfortunate events happen in your career or personal life. For instance, listing out the measures you need to have in place to deal with the sudden loss of your job or income will help you be better prepared if that unfortunate event occurs. Similarly, listing out how you’d deal with sudden problems such as a decline in health or major home or auto repairs will help you identify the resources you need to have in place (such as insurance or an emergency fund) to mitigate the effects of any of these events. The mere exercise of thinking through these potential events and recording your thoughts on how to deal with them can give you peace of mind in your everyday life, and help you stay focused on your long-term goals.
Lists can help you organize important things in your life and remain mindful of them. So, if you’d like to increase your productivity, remain cognizant of your time, money, and work efforts, leverage your network and ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected, consider the lists discussed here, and get on track to achieving long-term success.