I'm Ben Gruber

2013 / 13 May

Freedom Can Be a Burden – List Making & Time Management


Freedom is an incredible thing. Only in the last couple days am I finally truly realizing that there are no more emails that will arrive in my inbox that are of extreme importance, no more phone calls asking me to do something right away, and no more deadlines breathing down my neck. There is also no specific place I need to be and no time that I need to be there.

The only problem with all this freedom is that there is also no framework. No one is requesting anything of me. So that means I have to request something of myself – or it does not get done. So, in my case where I am trying to earn money for myself and start up a business – I actually have more work in a certain way. I have to be the one to come up with a task that needs completing and then I need to be the one that completes it.

This type of discipline is no easy feat when you are not used to it. I can easily see how I can get into the habit of accomplishing absolutely nothing each and everyday. Wake up at 10, make some breakfast and watch some TV. Read a little online and email/chat some friends and in a blink of an eye it is 1pm… time for lunch. I go the grocery store – cook up some low cost lunch – watch a little more TV and get ready to go the gym. 4 o’clock rolls around and I hit the gym – walk home – shower – send a few more emails and it is 6:30. I am suppose to meet a friend for dinner at 7:30 – so I head there – eat, have a drink and head home at 11pm. I need to relax before going to sleep – so I watch the Daily Show and catch Sport Center before going to bed. Wake up the next morning at 10 and do it again.

To make sure that I do not fall into this trap – I have had to pay close attention to what I do. But even when I block off certain hours of the day that are earmarked for business related items – I still sometimes do not get anything of importance done. Enter the art of list making. I have always hated lists, because I was good at organizing the tasks assigned to me by others in my mind and I thought of them as an extra unneeded step. But now, I have learned that lists are the life rafts that prevent me from drowning in the sea of freedom.

Let me drop some knowledge on what has really helped me. I start each morning block of business time by creating a list of actionable items that I need to accomplish that day. These items are not the bigger overarching things that may take days or even weeks to finish like incorporating my company or creating a whole new website. My list items are broken down into smaller items, making them things accomplishable day by day – moment by moment. I also start each of the list items off with an action verb. I couple that with making sure that the phrasing of the item makes it so that I can definitively say if it is finished or not (usually by adding more and more detail). This makes it so that I know whether or not I can check off the item. After completing my list for the day, I check over my list from the previous day and add any uncompleted items to todays list – prioritizing as I go.

From there it is pretty easy. I spend the rest of my blocked off work time, going through my list completing each task, checking off each and every item as I go. Sometimes I reorganize the priority of my list during the day and other times I break up items I thought were one task into a couple of different ones and scatter them through my priority scale. The time it takes me each morning to the write list pales in comparison to the time I save by not endlessly hoping between the different tasks I need to do and my email.

A couple more tips here before I get too boring and preachy. I started by using a word document, then I switched to using google tasks (but this kept me in my email which was distracting), so I eventually opted for two different programs, which I am still deciding between. One is a dead simple list management tool called Trello. It basically lets you create different lists, which they call boards. On each board, you have three buckets, Need to Do – Doing – Done. After entering them in, you simply drag each task into the area that it currently resides. Pretty simple, which is why I like it. The second tool I have been using is a site called the Action Method. It was developed by Scott Belsky who wrote a book that I highly recommend called Making Ideas Happen. Anyway, it is more in depth process of indexing the list of items you need to accomplish. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but it is highly effective if you can get into it, so I suggest checking it out.

I guess when all is said and done, this post is about the realization I have had that organizing your own time is difficult when you do not have any boundaries other than the earths rotation to bound you. For me, starting the morning off with lists is a great way to avoid the trap of having a seemingly busy – but unproductive day.


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