Ditch the To Do List. You Need a Change List.

It’s time do ditch the thing that you probably think is helping your productivity: the to-do list. Sound crazy? Read on…

“Make a list!” Any time I’m frustrated with the environment at work, at home, or in a relationship, I hear my mother’s echo, “make a list!”

Seriously, this started when I was about 10 years old and my overly Type A personality would be overwhelmed by homework — she’d tell me to make a list of each assignment that needed to be done, with a due date next to it. It helped me see, in front of me, what was necessary, and stopped me from spiraling out of “I have too much to do, I can’t do this!” control.

Meet the change list:

It’s not a to-do list, but rather a “this is what needs solving, changing, or fixing” list.

It’s what would snap me out of complainer mode and into fixer mode.

What’s a change list?

It’s a list of everything that needs to be different from what it is now.

Uhh…how is that different from a to-do list?

It leaves out the mundane, inane stuff that we tend to write into a to-do list just for the pleasure of crossing it off. It puts in front of you the concrete stuff that you probably having swirling around in your head as capricious, abstract, discombobulated fragment of thought, causing you to ping-pong among everything going on in your head.

Unclear? Let’s look at an example.

Sally is a manager of a department that isn’t meeting its targeted sales goals, but she can’t understand why because she’s so busy all the time, and she sees that the other people in her department are (or at least look) busy, too. She leaves work everyday feeling exhausted, still answering emails from her phone, and complains to her husband and kids at the dinner table when she’s home. She feels like the department is working hard, but she’s not getting support from the other departments, and thinks that some of the people are busy working, but not working efficiently.

  • clear out junk inbox
  • prep meeting room for 2PM team meeting
  • organize papers in lower desk drawer
  • get lunch with Lauren
  • ask Dave why he didn’t provide the report I needed/get report from Dave
  • pick up groceries on the way home
  • update project timeline
  • dept seems busy but inefficient — review day-to-day activities of each team member to determine inefficiencies
  • sales goals not met this week — review if across the board or some members haven’t carried their weight
  • groceries

Another great use for a change list is when you’re making a decision or facing specific conflicts — such as in these scenarios:

After careful review of her department, Sally has determined that one of her staff members, Dave, really isn’t carrying the weight, but feels guilty releasing him because he’s been with the company a while. So, she makes a change list of the things that she would need him to change in order to keep him as part of the team:

  • has not met expected/averaged sales count as set forth in job expectations (factored in the rest of the department’s performance to determine that it’s not an across-the-board issue)
  • does not make an effort to contact or work with other departments when prompted
  • is easy to irritate or anger when on the phone with clients
  • transition to a position that will allow me to spend more time in marketing and advertising

It’s not just for work.

Making change lists can help you in your personal life, too.

Have roommates and you all just can’t seem to get on the same page? Make a list of the things driving you crazy, and have them do the same. Go over it with each other and reach solutions, instead of leaving passive aggressive to-do lists on the fridge.

CEO. Big fan of anything that supports people + planet.