by Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified and Meredith Jones, DVM Co-Founders of Veterinary Financial Summit
A good friend (and Uncharted member) wanted to write thank you cards to people who came to her wedding. A pandemic later, her to-do list still said: “Send thank you cards.”
One day, she had an aha moment. She couldn’t send thank you cards, because she didn’t have thank you cards to write on. “Writing thank you cards” was not a to-do. It was a mini-project, and it encompassed several to-dos:
- Buy (or order) the cards
- Write a draft
- Write on the cards
- Write addresses on the envelopes
- Mail the cards.
She’s not the only one who wrote the wrong goal on a to-do list.
Another friend needed to send a refund to someone. His to-do list said “Refund Mark.”
One day, he had an aha moment. He couldn’t send a refund check, because he didn’t have his friend’s mailing address. “Refund Mark” was not a to-do. It was a mini-project that encompassed a couple of to-dos:
- Get Mark’s address
- Send the check (snail mail or electronic).
Productivity goddess April Perry had a similar experience. Her friend needed to order bookshelves to organize some books that had been sitting in boxes.
She kept copying, from to-do list to to-do list, “empty boxes.” One day, she had an aha moment. She couldn’t empty the boxes because she didn’t have enough bookshelves, or order bookshelves because she didn’t know how wide they should be. She couldn’t tell how wide they should be because… she didn’t have a tape measure! Yet again, “empty boxes” was not a to-do, it was a project. The 7 steps of the project were:
- Buy measuring tape
- Measure walls
- Decide on dimensions of cabinet
- Order cabinet
- Take cabinet out of box
- Put cabinet together
- Put books on shelves.
Do you think you might have fallen into that trap?
How to Fix To-Do Lists
It’s a common pitfall. We think we have a goal, but it’s the wrong goal. So we copy a task from list to list. For days, weeks, and months. A small to-do suddenly becomes a huge burden. In reality, the to-do is not a to-do. It’s a project or at least a mini-project. The secret is the “Next Action” concept.
David Allen, the best-selling author of Getting Things Done, explains that a Next Action is “The next physical, visible activity that progresses something toward completion.” If you need to send thank you cards, your next action is to buy the cards. If you need to send a refund, your next action is to know where to send it. If you need to put books on shelves you don’t have, your next action is to buy the shelves. If you need to repaint the family room, your next action is to choose the right color (and not to buy the paint!). If you need to “do your taxes,” you need to gather your W2, K1s, 1099s, and countless other fun statements, etc.
Look at your own to-do list and see if defining Next Actions might help you get closer to achieving your goals.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Unchartedvet.com editorial team.
More from Uncharted Community Members Dr. Meredith Jones and Dr. Phil Zeltzman:
Mic Drop: Goal Setting For High Achievers by Dr. Phil Zeltzman
Cone of Shame Podcast: Biggest Questions Veterinarians Have On Student Debt with Dr. Meredith Jones