The Power of the Action Item List

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

How many times have you had a seemingly simple goal or plan fail along the way because you lost sight of the little things that were critical to a successful outcome? It’s happened to me many times, and I’ve learned to use action item lists to combat these failures. It’s not for lack of good intention or work-ethic that we fail; we just overestimate our ability to focus and remember our plan in the days or weeks that follow the creation of it. We leave a meeting with clear direction believing it will be easy to remember everything we had to do, and then the inevitable happens…..our attention is drawn elsewhere, then we sleep, and before we know it, we’ve lost focus or plain can’t remember what our part even was!

Action lists are incredibly powerful tools, and are simple to create and use. One of the reasons they work is because we remember more if we write it down. The second reason is psychological; creating a plan that gives us clear direction to achieve the goal gives us the confidence to go GET IT DONE! It also makes the goal appear much less daunting and uncertain than it did before we took the time to formulate a plan of attack and write it down. As we make progress and check off action items, it gives us even more confidence and security that we’ll achieve the goal on time.

With New Years around the corner, many of us will be creating personal goals to achieve in the coming year. Do yourself a favor and take the time to create a plan to achieve those goals and write it down. Then post it where you’re constantly reminded of each step needed to accomplish the goal so you don’t lose focus as unforeseen distractions unfold throughout the year. A white board mounted somewhere you frequently look works well. If you’re prone to watching TV instead of walking after dinner, mount it above the TV for instance. This reminds you that your time is better spent on achieving your goals. I recommend making the first few steps simple and easy so you can get a little traction and confidence going before things get tough.

Final words: This is going to take some humility to admit that you can’t keep everything straight in your mind for you to effectively use action item lists. Wear your action item lists as a badge of honor; after all, the reason you need them is because you’re someone who GETS IT DONE, and people respect and count on you to perform! There’s no shame in using all the tools available to you, so drop the ego, and make those lists!