Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver, Creative Commons
For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed making checklists. During both high school and college, I would make minutely-detailed lists, breaking down each day’s work and orienting my mind to the necessary tasks. Now that I have exited the academic world, I do the same thing for my various tasks during the work day. Sometimes I manage to check every item off my list; other days, of course, I seem unable to complete even one task. But having a tangible list in front of me has always helped somehow.
As I have reflected on my year of reading during 2012, I have also recognized some clear benefits of having a tangible expression of a goal – a checklist!
First, my daily routine of making a list of priorities helps me to focus on what I need to accomplish and plan my time accordingly. Of course, it goes without saying that even with a list in front of me all day, I still can mismanage my time, procrastinate, and become distracted to varying degrees. But I have found that having the list there, at my fingertips, serves as a constant reminder and helps me to stay on track.
As a side note, I have also discovered that I prefer to sit down and write a list by hand each day, rather than type into my computer or make a note in my phone. Something about that sheet of paper staring at me all day, waiting for the check boxes to be marked off, acts as better motivation than a Word document or an iPhone note!
Second, tangible goals in the form of a list help me to accomplish specific tasks more effectively. For example, listing my tasks down to the minute details of “empty inbox” and “respond to voicemails” helps me make sure I don’t let anything slip through the cracks during my work day. (Along these same lines, I have also learned to make a much better use of Microsoft Outlook’s email “flagging” system, which I use in combination with my to-do list to make sure I follow up on any pending issues that need my continued oversight.)
Third, consistent work toward a long-term goal brings great reward in the end. As I turned the last page of my twenty-third book, I felt a rush of satisfaction in the knowledge that I only have one book left to complete my goal of reading 24 books this year. In some sense, I worried that setting such a specific goal—read 24 books in 2012—would somehow rob me of any pleasure I might otherwise have had in pursuing 24 different titles throughout the year, but I have actually found the reverse to be true. I have enjoyed and profited more by this year of reading than I have in all of my reading of recent memory. True, the goal of 24 books felt unachievable at times and loomed over my head ominously, but by faithfully pursuing that objective throughout the year, I have such satisfaction now that I know I will cross the finish line.
I love the satisfaction of checking tasks off my list. Yes, I’m even one of those people who will write something on my list, even after I have already completed it, simply so I can cross it off afterwards! Checklists might seem unimportant sometimes, but as I crack open my twenty-fourth and final book for this year, I am reminded of the power and value of tangible goal-setting—and I feel inspired to start my reading list for next year’s 24 titles!