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Don't change jobs. Kill a tree.

So, I got in a bit of trouble yesterday after blogging about how my wife will chase down cheap gasoline at the cost of using more gasoline. After reading my blog, she simply said, “Well written but you didn’t have to make fun of me!”

Yeah, I kinda did.

Now, a new day has dawned and have I learned my lesson? Of course not.

My wife has some very unique quirks. If she showers at the wrong time of day she isn’t as clean. She has perfectly straight hair yet needs 20 minutes in the bathroom each day so she can use her hair straightener in private. She falls asleep exactly 1 minute before laying down at night (which is other-worldly) and she subscribes to so many de-cluttering podcasts and programs our house is full of 3-ring binders and labeled boxes full of crap on how to de-clutter.

Now, with all that said, and at great risk of being beaten with a rolling pin already, I have to giver her props when it comes to something.

My wife kills trees. Not like “every once in a while” does she drive over a sapling in our yard cutting its little Groot life short. I mean she actually slays forests as if they are dragons. She is like Zena- Warrior Princess of Pulp. She makes lists. In fact, the other day I saw a list on her desk and the first thing on her list was: “Make more lists” and the second thing was “Buy more paper for lists”.

While my wife has fully embraced the concept of online apps to the point of obsession, she still makes paper lists and I have to admit, she should consider speaking at emergency management conferences. You see, my wife runs a household full of children that should really be on display in a zoo, she oversees three businesses and she runs a non-profit foundation. She changes diapers as often as I drink coffee, she manages the household’s menu and somehow she keeps track of our finances.

The trick is the lists.

In an ever-changing world and with growing spans of control, we often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work we have to do and it is easy to lose track of what we had to get done! Do you sometimes just forget to do something important, so that people have to chase you to get work done?

When this situation gets really bad, we will often think we are not cut out for the job or we start to think about changing jobs. These feelings have a very negative effect on how we operate, how we treat others and the very quality of the work we do. I have met so many people that work in the fields of emergency management, homeland security, law enforcement and other government jobs that are constantly looking for a better “gig” because things are chaos where they are, but maybe, just maybe, it is not the job they need to flee. It could be that killing some trees could be the solution.

All of these are symptoms of not keeping a proper "To-Do List." I like to think of a “To-Do List” as a miniature job description. Many of us received such a description when we took our jobs and these lists can act like a supplement that puts your work diet back in balance.

These are prioritized lists of all the tasks that you need to carry out. They list everything that you have to do, with the most important tasks at the top of the list, and the least important tasks at the bottom.

I learned from my wife that by keeping such a list, you make sure that your tasks are written down all in one place so you don't forget anything important. The concept behind paper is that it can be hung in a visible location where you will constantly be reminded. I long ago gave up on the apps that promised to organize my life because it was to easy to swipe away notices when I was on the phone or driving. That paper list hangs there, screaming in its own way, “Hey! There is still crap on here you have not crossed off and it is already 3:30 p.m.!”

By prioritizing tasks, you plan the order in which you'll do them, so that you can tell what needs your immediate attention, and what you can leave until later.

I will attest to the truth that To-do lists are essential if you're going to beat work overload. When you don't use them effectively, you'll appear unfocused and unreliable to the people around you. You have to understand the concept of “roll-over minutes” as well. Remember them? Back in the day, you would pay your cellular phone bill which was based on how many minutes you used. At the end of the month, if you had not used the 500 minutes but had only used 360 minutes, then the following month you had an additional 140 minutes!

When using the “roll-over minutes” concept on your lists, you need to understand that anything not crossed off today’s list MUST BE TRANSFERRED TO TOMORROW’S LIST.

When you use your lists effectively, you'll be much better organized, and you'll be much more reliable. You'll experience less stress, safe in the knowledge that you haven't forgotten anything important. More than this, if you prioritize intelligently, you'll focus your time and energy on high-value activities, which will mean that you're more productive, and more valuable to your team.

I work with someone that does not have real lists. We will meet at 9 a.m. and go over the three things that are most important for the day and even estimate how much time each project should take, but before noon I will see a lot of his activity on LinkedIn as he gets distracted scrolling through social media. By noon the three projects no longer look exciting but rather look like three massive jobs that now have to be done before 5:00 p.m. After lunch, the three projects will appear more daunting and there is a despair that begins and whispers in his ear, “You are never going to get it all done so you should you just run some personal errands and see if that relieves the stress you are feeling”.

That never works. What happens is that those three projects are now added to tomorrow’s list which is now 6 projects and the cycle starts over. Within three days, 6 things are crossed off the list because it is now either too late or we had to re-prioritize because there was no earthly way it could all be done. These sacrifices come with a great toll as clients suffer, morale suffers, business suffers and reputation suffers.

Keeping a properly structured and thought-out list sounds simple enough. But it can be surprising how many people fail to use them at all, never mind use them effectively.

In fact, it's often when people start to use them effectively and sensibly that they make their first personal productivity breakthroughs, and start making a success of their careers.

Look, I may give my wife a hard time, but she gets her work done. Actually, she gets the work of a small army done. Am I worried about the rain forest due to her use of paper? Maybe a little, but visiting the rain forest is not on my list right now.

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