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Aligned Thinking: Make
      Every Moment Count
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I Never Get Everything Done

One simple tool can change that forever

by Dr. R. James Steffen, SSA International


“I never get everything done!” is exactly what Bill Madson thought to himself.  Sound familiar?  Over fifty percent of working people think this at least once a week. 

Bill Madson shared his frustration with a friend.  Bill also told the friend, at times he felt so disorganized.  “Frequently, when I’m working on something during the day, I get distracted because there are ten other things that I should be doing.”

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To-Do List Helps But Frustrates
The friend encouraged Bill to begin writing a to-do list.  “At the
beginning of the day, list the things you want to do today. As you think of something else, quickly put it on your list and get back to the thing you were doing.  That way you can be totally involved with vigor in one thing.  You’ll get more done.”

The friend was right.  Bill did get more done.  But he was still not satisfied! He was still not getting it all done.  The to-do list actually added to Bill’s frustration because it showed Bill in black and white all that he was not getting done.

Longer Hours
On his own, Bill began
coming in early, shortening his lunch and working a bit late.  He got more done, but he still was not getting it all done.  The evening I met Bill, he was very frustrated.  In the morning his to-do list had thirty things on it.  Starting early, shortening his lunch, and staying an hour later, as he left his office, he checked his to-do list.  He had accomplished his top three priorities.  Following the advice of the friend, during the day he had immediately written on his to-do list other things he thought of.  This day he had added four more.

The TDLF Sickness
As he walked to the car with his to-do list in hand, what do you think Bill was focusing on, the three things he accomplished that day, or the 31 he still had on his to-do list?  If
you guessed the 31, you understand Bill.  In fact, if you have ever had the frustrating feeling that your to-do list was longer at day’s end than the beginning when you put in extra time, and you thought $#%&*&^%$, you understand Bill’s feeling.  We call that sickening feeling  To-Do-List Frustration (TDLF).

A Simple and Immediate Solution to TDLF
If you
can call TDLF a psychological sickness, then the penicillin for the situation is the Holding Pen and Priority List.  The good news is the Holding Pen and Priority List work even faster than penicillin.

Here is the simplicity of the solution that will give you immediate freedom from the sickening TDLF feeling.  First, create a holding pen where you will write down all your to-do’s.  Your holding pen can be a simple pad of paper or an electronic device like a palm pilot, Black Bird or computer. 

At the beginning of each day, create a priority list.  Your priority list items come from the Holding Pen.  However, here is the critical difference; on your Priority List place only those priorites you believe you can accomplish today.

During the day as you think of more things to do, quickly add them to your Holding Pen.  Then you are free to immediately get back to the one priority of the moment with vigor and concentration.  And you will not forget anything because it’s captured in your Holding Pen

Put yourself in this picture:

Mr. TDLF’s To-Do List


     P___       ___  P ___

         ___      ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___


         ___  P ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___

         ___      ___      ___





         ___         3/30 – 10%


As you go to the car, you have accomplished three things, got only 10% of your original 30 and still have 31 to do.  Which do you focus on--the three or the 31?


Mr. Satisfied’s Priority List


        P ___

        P ___

        P ___


 3/3 = 100%

Your Holding Pen is out of sight, to be used when you set your Priority List tomorrow.

As you walk to the car, you only see the three priorities you began with and accomplished today.  You smile as you reflect, "Finally, I got it all done."


An Immediate Triple Win

If you are like Bill Madson, when you use the Holding Pen and Priority List, you can expect a triple win.

Win #1 – As the Day Unfolds
First, one
of the things we sometimes forget, is that we have a limited amount of psychic or mental energy.  If part of your psychic energy goes to remembering things, you have less mental energy to accomplish the priority you are working on. Using the Holding Pen and Priority List, your first win is during the day; whenever you think of something additional to do, or someone asks you to do something, there is a place to put it immediately, your Holding Pen.  This means that you don’t forget it.  You have organized it.  This organization lets you be free. All your mental energy can be focused on your priority of this moment.  As the day unfolds, in the here and now, you can do a better job.  And you never need fear forgetting anything.

Win #2 – Increased Achievement
There are two
reasons why you will achieve more. As was just said, during the day you are free to focus all your mental energy on the priority of the moment without fear of forgetting or losing anything.  Secondly, since you set your priorities at the beginning of the day, you will accomplish more of the really important things.

Win #3 – Increased Satisfaction – “I Got It All Done”
What an exhilarating feeling!  And to think you can achieve it immediately and for the rest of
your life just by starting right now creating a Holding Pen and Priority List.  Imagine most of your days ending by looking at your priority list and being able to say those glorious words, “I got it all done!”  It’s wonderful being able to add, “I got it all done again!”

And you can make it happen immediately.  It’s no more expensive than a pad of paper.  You don’t need anyone’s permission.  You can make it your daily habit right now.  And it will work tomorrow and all your tomorrows.

What If…
Some might say, “What if my boss or clients change my priorities?  What if I set too many
priorities?  What if… What if…” Those are all topics for future articles. The goal of these is to help you align every action to what you really want and  Make Every Moment Count. 

15-Second Summary – Your Take-Home Value

I never
get it all done!

1. Use a
Holding Pen to capture all your to-do and want-to-do items.
2. At the
beginning of the period/day create your Priority List of those priorities you can reasonably accomplish today taking these from your Holding Pen.
3. As new items come up, immediately put them in the Holding Pen and get back to your priority of the moment.
4. At the end of the day focus only on your priority list. 

1. During the day, you will be free to be more focused on the priority of the moment. By
putting things immediately in the Holding Pen, you won’t lose anything.
2. At day’s end, you will have accomplished more of the priorities.
3. You will have the wonderful feeling that comes when you say; “I got it all done again!”


© Steffen, Steffen & Associates, Inc 2005

The material for this article comes from Dr. R. James Steffen’s new book: Make Every Moment Count; How to get the most from your business and personal life and make both a celebration.  To read a few chapters or more articles go to SSAinternational.com.  The insights for this article and Dr. Steffen’s new book comes from his work with 140 Fortune 500 Companies to help their employees get the most from their business and personal lives.  He is available for seminars and workshops on this material. Call 203-740-8400 or e-mail rjsteffen@SSAinternational.com.

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