You have probably used to-do lists to get things done.
Which means you probably know the feeling of coming to the end of the day and the list is NOT DONE!
Often what’s not done is that important task that you REALLY should have gotten done…
Learn a better system for making to-do lists and accomplishing your “to-do’s" here.
The “Do or Die List,” which I learned from my friend Jordan Syatt at Syatt Fitness. He is a world-record powerlifter, strength coach, and entrepreneur. You can read more about him on his website HERE.
What I love about this system is that it takes 3 things into consideration that you usually ignore when you write down all the stuff that want to get done. Namely...
1. Getting one thing done (or substantial work on it) is AMAZING.
2. Some things never end, like brushing your teeth, they have to get done everyday.
3. You are human, sometimes your energy will be low and you need easy stuff to do
These 3 considerations translate into your 3 categories for your to-do list:
Do or Die Priority
This goes right at the top of your list. It is the only task you have to change daily.
There is an exception to this rule: when you have a task that is so big it can’t get finished in one day. Then it might stay there for a short amount of time (occasionally being replaced by something urgent).
This is the ONE thing you have to get done (or take a significant chunk out of) every day.
If this gets done you had a SUCCESSFUL DAY.
Period. Once it gets done, congratulate yourself! This is simple but NOT EASY.
This item should be something that moves you forward.
When you start getting one important thing done every day, you will be shocked how fast you will move forward. Most of us are spending a lot of energy treading water and zero energy swimming. And we often don’t realize that we aren’t actually moving forward, we are just getting really tired.
Some good examples of a Do or Die Priority are:
•Setting up a work-space
•Writing an article/blog post
•Searching for a job
•Creating a PowerPoint presentation
•Writing a book
•Setting up a Website
Any project you are working on (or preferably the next action for the project) is a GREAT fit for this task.
This is the section for those recurring daily tasks that need to happen to keep your life (or work) together.
For example, common recurring tasks could be exercise, reading, attending to your health, or handling emails.
Or for those LONG processes that never really have an endpoint. For instance, a daily medication task for me is studying Hebrew, which I do for an hour a day. There isn’t a concrete endpoint for the task being completed, but I do envision a day in the future (probably a couple years) where my Hebrew is at a high enough level that I won’t feel the need to do this.
I certainly wish that I could rush though my Hebrew studies and check it off the list but that's just not how language acquisition, and many other things, work.
Once this section is set you probably won’t have to change it for a long time. But setting it the first time can be difficult.
The first difficulty comes from deciding which daily tasks are worthy of your list. There are a TON of mundane things you do every day that you probably don’t need to put on the list such as:
•Using the bathroom
If you want to change how you are doing one of these (like waking up earlier) or if you forget about doing something basic on a consistent basis (like brushing your teeth) then it definitely deserves a spot on the list.
But the list should only contain things that are important, you don’t want to forget, and are easy to skip.
Additionally the items should either: 1. Help you maintain order in your life or 2. Move you toward a long term goal. Or possibly both. These items could be:
•Posting to social media
•Learning a Language
The second difficulty is remembering to be realistic.
It is very easy to write down everything you would LIKE to do daily, and forget that you have other obligations and that there are only 24 hours in a day.
Focus on what is important, keep the Daily Medication to 3-5 items and no more than 1-2 hours a day, MAX.
Remember Less can be More.
Here is a tip. If it isn’t supposed to happen every day, or it needs to happen at a specific time, then a better place for it is on your calendar.
To illustrate, if you habitually go running 3 times a week this is NOT a Daily Medication task. It should be scheduled on the appropriate day and time on your calendar.
Or if you need to pick you child up from daycare at 5pm every day, it should be on your calendar, not on your Do or Die list.
Do some experimenting with this section and you will find things that work for you. Also remember it will change periodically once a task is no longer necessary or becomes second nature, allowing you to focus on something else.
Nap Time Activities
You are not superman. There are going to be times during the day when your energy is low and you don’t want to do productive things.
As human beings our energy levels cycle throughout the day. If you can just stay productive doing a low energy/focus task, when your strength returns you can get back to the hard work.
The reason you need to plan IN ADVANCE what you will do if your energy is low, is you don’t have the energy to make a good decision when your energy is low.
So you default to useless and meaningless tasks, like social media, TV, surfing the web, or an actual nap.
But, if you had some meaningful tasks already lined up, you could do those instead.
This should be simple, easy tasks that just need to get done:
This section is also difficult to get right and you will have to tweak it over time.
The important thing is to get a few light tasks to get you through until your energy returns allowing you to focus and work on a more difficult task.
Why some examples are in multiple sections
You might have noticed some tasks are in multiple sections as examples. Like reading and writing.
The reason for this is people have different abilities and tasks have different difficulties.
Say you have to read a text book for a class, take notes, and create flashcards for a test.
This is probably a Do or Die task. You need to be focused and do a good job to pass the test.
But if you are a full-time student and have this task in multiple classes which are all ongoing this could easily be a Daily Medication task.
Or if you are gifted at learning from reading, and the material isn’t too difficult for you it could be a nap time activity.
What if you are writing a book?
Maybe you are a professional writer and have received an advance and the manuscript has to get done ASAP.
That is a Do or Die task if ever there was one.
But maybe you aren’t a paid author, you have a job and a life. But you really want to write a book. Then maybe it’s a daily medication task where you just want to write a little bit everyday (even if it's just 15 or 30 minutes).
The book will get done when it gets done. What’s important is that you don’t forget about working on it.
Or maybe you write regular emails (or letters even!) to old friends who live far away. You don’t care about grammar or syntax, you just want to catch them up on your life and ask about theirs. There are no “due dates” in this instance, it’s just a casual and personal back and forth communication.
That is a great nap time activity.
Basically, where an item falls depends on specifics of the task, and how comfortable you are at doing it.
Breaking the Rules
Getting ONE thing done everyday is HUGE. And if you try to put 2 or 3 Do or Die tasks on the list this system simply won’t work.
But if that task is done, as well as you daily medication, and you are still full of energy feel free to keep working on something else productive that you need to get done. However, there is a variation of this system that allows for two Do or Die tasks everyday…
Work and Life Balance
You can divide your life into two categories, Personal and Work. Then you can create completely SEPARATE lists for each.
This is an especially great idea if you are starting or running a business. It will help you make sure that your personal life doesn’t fall apart, and give you a sense of how much time you are devoting to each.
It also works well if you have a strong boundary between your job and your personal life. You can make one list for the office and one list to keep your personal life in order.
If you choose this option, I strongly recommend that you make Daily Medication and Nap Time activities for both lists.
And YES, you can still choose to just make one list for you personal life or job and not use this system for the other.
Theoretically you could try dividing your life into 3 categories. I haven’t tried this but it feels to me as if this would be overwhelming and you would fall into the trap of NOT COMPLETING one or more Do or Die task every day.
If you want to give this a try send me an email (David@Magenfitness.com) and let me know how it goes!
One of the important PRINCIPLES of this system is getting the Do or Die task DONE. Or at least a lot of work on it. The mental relief that you get from completing that everyday is an important part of why this system is so good.
Other things to consider
Life has a way of getting in the way of your plans.
If a REAL emergency happens you should forgive yourself for not getting your Do or Die task done, and then roll it over to tomorrow.
Generally speaking, you should devote all your attention and energy to getting your Do or Die task done ASAP as soon as your day starts.
Unplanned-for events should only affect you Daily Medication and Nap Time activities.
The best time to decide on your Do or Die task is the night (or day) before. When you are first implementing this system a great trick is to make “Create Do or Die list for tomorrow” one of your Daily Medication tasks for the day.
Even though life gets crazy and unpredictable sometimes you should USUALLY still get all your Daily Medication tasks done.
If you want a specific goal I would say shoot for completion 80% of the time. If you can’t get ALL of them done 80% of the time your Daily Medication list is too long.
There are two solutions to this: either remove some items, or change your time commitment to some items.
Remember to prioritize your Daily Medication list if necessary. For example if “processing email” is on it and you (or your job) have a policy of responding to emails in 24 hours, it needs to get done 100% of the time.
Tracking your progress
When I coach clients through this system we track on a Google Spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet is formatted to allow you to see an entire week on one screen and cross out the tasks as you complete them. There is also infinite storage space that allows you to keep all your logs and look in the past to see what you were doing and how much you’ve done.
But my favorite part about it is that allows me to see it in real time and leave comments to help my clients maximize how they use the system.
If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet send me an email and I would be happy to send it to you.
For the low-tech people you can also do this with pen (or pencil) and paper. If you choose this method I recommend that you get a separate notebook for your Do or Die list.
On every page write the date and your COMPLETE list.
Cross off all the things as you do them and watch your progress.
Even though this means rewriting your Daily Medication and Nap Time tasks every day it makes it easy to see yourself progress and objectively calculate your consistency.
Another option would be to write the Daily Medication and Nap Time lists in the front (or back) and just write your new Do or Die task every day. With this option you can still track your success on Daily Medication and Nap Time with a chart on the same page.
The only corners that you can cut on tracking are not fully tracking how often Nap Time activities get done, and if you are successfully getting ALL your Daily Medication tasks done EVERY DAY you don’t need to track your consistency on them.
Whether you choose paper or digital what is important is that you find something that works for you.
This is a great system for creating a To-Do list that is INSPIRING instead of frustrating. It is very easy to implement into your life and stick to.
Watch your productivity go through the roof by using this system.
If you have any questions or just want to share your list with me shoot me an email at David@magenfitness.com.