In his books, and on his blog, and in various podcasts, Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) regularly mentions his use of “systems rather than goals” to accomplish things.

From his blog:

“For example, losing ten pounds is a goal (that most people can’t maintain), whereas learning to eat right is a system that substitutes knowledge for willpower.”

I like that approach, and, even though as an INTJ I was already for the most part doing that, at least now I’m more cognizant of it. Plus, developing systems to get things done is especially effective when you’re very aware of your own flaws and shortcomings, as I am. Putting systems in place greatly helps me to avoid my common pitfalls and compensate for my own inadequacies and weaknesses. I like to call this “the present me setting traps for the future me,” which I discuss further below.

But then recently, someone in my Facebook network posted about his use of lists to help keep him from getting overwhelmed when he has a lot to get done. I do the same—in fact, I implement a list system of sorts; so I thought I’d share:

Dry-Erase Boards

I like dry-erase boards. I have one on my refrigerator, I have a few placed around my writing station—but my most useful one, believe it or not, is my bathroom mirror. Yep. I use a dry-erase marker to make lists and reminders on my bathroom mirror (it’s a huge, double-sink counter, with a full-width mirror, and I only use one of the two sinks—maybe a third of the mirror—so plenty of extra space for writing notes, lists, reminders, etc…and it wipes right off with a paper towel).

Digital Aids

I also have a “sticky note” open on my computer screen for listing less critical to-dos—more long-term stuff or projects or research, etc. when I have time to work on them. Plus I keep a few text files open for current stuff that involves writing—a blog article I’m toying with, a non-urgent email I need to craft and send, notes for various ongoing fiction projects, book reviews, the like. I can dabble on these between other projects, 30 – 60 seconds here and there, until eventually it’s roughed out and basically ready to go, and it didn’t really take any valuable time to get done.

As a supplement, when I’m out on the route, I send myself texts with reminders, links, pics, whatever I need, to remind me of things I need to do once I get back home. These texts create notifications on my computer screen, and upon arriving home and landing at my computer, I immediately transfer the notes to my other lists as needed.

Another Unexpected Benefit to Using Lists

Over the years, I’ve discovered an additional, unexpected benefit to using lists: they not only make great reminders—especially during really busy times—but they also automate the action process, which eliminates much of the thought process as well, which in turn eliminates much of the emotional element too: when there are things I need to do that I don’t want to do, I don’t spend so much time overthinking, or dreading, or procrastinating; I just go down the list and knock ’em out, one by one. Bam, Bam, Bam, done.

Basically, the list gets me (or my brain) out of my own way…

Setting Traps For the Future You

There’s a school of thought along the lines of “the present you setting traps for the future you.” If you know yourself well—in my case, that I’m easily distracted, that I’m busy and forget things, that like any artist I procrastinate big-time and am not easily motivated—then the present you must prepare for—or “lay traps” to guard against—your own shortcomings that will surely manifest in the future. I do this using lists: dry-erase boards placed strategically around my life, along with digital lists on my electronic devices.

Staging Areas

And finally, I have a “staging table” next to the front door, on which I stage things that I need to take with me to work or on errands or whatever. I have to walk right by them on my way out the door, so that helps keep me from forgetting them—because believe me, I will. I simply know that the busier I am, the more forgetful I become. I often call myself “the absent-minded professor.”

And believe it or not, I also have a staging area upstairs at the top of the stairs, where I stage things I need to take downstairs on my next trip.

Whatever it takes…

Eliminating Distractions

Aids to help us focus on staying productive are fine, but it’s just as helpful to eliminate as many distractions as possible, too.

And for me, that means no TV. I haven’t had any type of TV service in my home for some twenty years now. That means I don’t have that fucking magnet vying for my time and attention 24/7. My TV only comes on when I sit down to watch a documentary, or occasionally a movie (maybe two movies a month, if that), and that’s it. So do yourself a favor: turn it off, and leave it off.

More recently, I’ve struggled a little with social media—especially since 99% of my friends are online—but over time, with effort and diligence, I’ve pretty much gotten that under control, too. I get in and get right back out, at specific times during the day, and don’t get sucked in anymore. Like the TV, I use it as a tool, and don’t allow it to become an addiction.

Developing Self-Discipline Takes Practice (ha ha)

As I like to say: The problem with developing self-discipline is that it takes lots of practice!

Anyway, I hope some of these ideas and tips have been helpful…

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