Most of us use some kind of to-do list, whether it’s tasks scribbled on a sticky note (like me), projects typed into a computer or an app on your phone, or a snapshot of your day written into a planner.
Author Sam Bennett finds to-do lists to be “too dictatorial.” It makes her feel like a high schooler who’s being told to do her homework.
Instead, she prefers creating a could-do list.
These very words, “could do,” remind her that she has a choice about the tasks she works on.
She talks about this in her newest book, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes A Day, which offers insights, tips and techniques for accomplishing your creative goals.
“I could do the laundry, or I could walk around in dirty, smelly clothes. I have a choice. Even if the task is something I know I must do, I feel more relaxed if I remember that I have the option to not do it,” writes Bennett, also an actor and teacher who specializes in creativity, productivity and personal branding.
She also recommends a kind of worksheet to accompany your could-do list. She uses this worksheet any time her list of tasks gets too long or unwieldy.
Specifically, it takes into account several important things: time, finances, your potential return on investment, and whether you want to do the task in the first place.
To create the worksheet Bennett suggests separating your page into these columns:
- Task. Simply list the task or project.
- Time. Estimate how long the task will take.
- Expense. Estimate how much money the task will require (if any).
- Inclination. Consider — on a scale of 1 to 10 — how much you actually want to do the task.
- Return on investment. Determine — also on a scale of 1 to 10 — how much you might get back from completing the task.
For instance, Bennett included the task of mailing a magazine clipping she thought a client would be interested in. This task had been on her could-do list for weeks. When she went through the worksheet, she realized that sending the clipping would only take 2 minutes and cost 44 cents. And she really wanted to do it (she scored it a “10”), and she predicted a big return (this also got a “10”).
Bennett mailed out the clipping along with a brief note that day. Three days later her client called to request another 10 sessions.
“That little could-do item netted me more than a thousand dollars, but more than that, it helped me be the kind of person I want to be — the kind who sends thoughtful little notes to clients that I like.”
Bennett has used this technique for a broad range of tasks, including prioritizing her projects for the holidays.
Creating a could-do list (and considering factors like time and desire) gives you the opportunity to be intentional about your days. It helps you feel less shackled to shoulds — I should do that — and become more mindful of how you really want to live.