Abram Interstate Insurance Services, Inc., CMGA

Helping Independent Insurance Agents Since 1996

4 Ways to Turn “To Do” lists into “Done” lists

Published on July 13, 2015

How do you keep track of everything you have to get done in an hour, day, or week?  Do you find yourself writing lists of tasks (or worse yet, just trying to keep track of them in your head), but not always accomplishing what you set out to do? Part of that could be because of how you write out your “to do” items for yourself.

Scott Belsky, author of the book Making Ideas Happen, developed a system called the Action Method that helps make sure you’re categorizing your “To Do” lists into quantifiable, check-off-able task steps. It may sound like semantics, but it re-trains you how to think of all you have to do, and can make you a more productive worker over all. Belsky’s whole goal, after all, was to introduce a system that helps make your ideas happen.

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The big changes come down to these four things:

1. Don’t list a project on your to do list. Each project should have it’s own tasks, essentially. If you put “Come up with Marketing strategy” on your To Do list, chances are much lower that you’ll actually start on it. However, if you break it down into practical tasks, you can see the steps it’ll take to get you there, and you check off one step at a time. Steps for the example may look like this

Project: Come up with Marketing strategy

Action Steps:

  • Meet with rep from the local Insurance magazine
  • Find out rates for buying a mailing list for my town
  • Find out rates for buying an ad in the yellow pages
  • Email team to ask them to brainstorm outside the box ideas
  • Meet with team to go over findings and formulate a plan

Those are all items that are quantifiable, and all necessary to the project, but they’re also easy to see, so when you have that 15 minutes left here and there, you can look at your list and see what small task could be tackled in that time. If you had 15 minutes and looked down and saw “Come up with Marketing Strategy” though, your brain would tell you (accurately), there’s no way you can accomplish that right now in this little time slot. Breaking down your projects into tasks (Belsky calls them “action steps” will enable you to be more efficient with your time.

2. Always start your action steps with a verb. Again, it sounds like semantics. I personally fought this one for a long time, but I can’t tell you how true it is — when I start an action step with a verb, my mind automatically knows what it has to do to accomplish this task. We are action-oriented beings, and when we’re told to do a simple task that starts with a verb, we are much more likely to be motivated to do it. Even if it only eliminates one thought-step. Try it out and see what you think.

Non-verbed:

– rates for mailing list in my town

– ad in yellow pages maybe?

– brainstorm-whole team

Verb-using action steps

– Find out rates for buying a mailing list for my town

– Find out rates for buying an ad in the yellow pages

– Email team to ask them to brainstorm outside the box ideas

The last one is a perfect example. If you know you need to brainstorm something with a team, and you just write it on a list, you haven’t developed your action plan for how/when you’re going to do said brainstorming. Do you want to do it at lunch? Will you go to everyone’s desks? Will you call everyone? Will you email everyone. The latter version is a decisive step — you’re going to email them. Easy and done.

3. Put a due date on each action step. If your action step doesn’t have a firm due date, put one on there for yourself, knowing that you can change it if need be, but that that date marked on there is what you’re aiming for. This will also help you when tasks are given to you — you’ll get in the habit of asking, “when do you need this done?” which will help you better prioritize your time.

4. When you finish an action step, check it off with a check mark. When you don’t need to do a task anymore, put a slash through it. You can come up with your own system for this, but these simple symbols help you to know what you’ve accomplished, know what’s still on your plate, and to know what doesn’t need your attention anymore. Belsky actually developed notebooks, cahiers, notepads and other products all designed for the Action Method that you can use, or you can just use their concept and put check boxes as the bullet points for each action step on your list. Each of the products typically has boxes for your action steps, plus space beside it for notes about the project or action steps.

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Give it a try and tell us what you think. Let’s get started! Have any insurance risks you need to place (and then check off your to-do list)? Quote online with us now.

Do you have any great tips for how you make your ideas happen? We’d love to hear them! Share with us on facebook!


Abram Interstate Insurance Services, Inc. is a California wholesale insurance broker (CMGA) that has licensing and expertise to place business in both admitted and non-admitted markets for personal lines insurance and commercial lines insurance in California and surrounding areas.

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