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To do lists; they take on many different forms. At times, creating them feels like a waste of time. Then when you do, they are overwhelmingly long. I love my lists, but it was a relationship that has taken years to come to fruition.

The first date with my list was rocky at best: a random sheet of paper that I stuck in my pocket early in the morning prior to coffee. I never glanced at it again, and only found it in shreds in the dryer several days later. The second date was better: we connected on some level and saw each other multiple times throughout the day with various tasks crossed off and in some cases scribbled off for that full feeling of accomplishment. I think both of us felt the connection, and we never let go. We worked through the color-coded post-it note phase which was spread out on walls throughout the house. For both of us, it felt burdensome and ineffective.

Then, yes, the tech revolution: with apps that would solve the world’s organizational issues with one swipe. Again, I didn’t feel connected enough to my list. Who wants to figure out a new app everyday? I felt like I was asking my list to be too many things to too many apps. Then a break through: the picking of the ring so to speak, the permission from the parents, and the perfect wedding for both the list and I. A yellow pad of paper with two simple words: To Do. It has proven day in and day out to be flexible, short, long, detailed, vague, but most importantly, it is what sets us apart from other people and their lists.

Our story is one that resonates with a lot of our athletes and their families. How do I get all of this done? The list is important for everyone; especially for those student athletes who might be feeling a little behind in meeting their personal academic goals at USPA. I was recently speaking with a parent during a parent coffee event we held, and we were comparing list strategies. She utilizes a book with a calendar intact that she fills in weekly and monthly. A peer that I used to do a lot of sailing with would just populate his iCal with his list daily (too many colors for me). However you build your list, the point is that you are crossing things off.

Our student athletes travel the world, and at times are unable to focus on their academics for days at a time. That is perfectly fine! In fact, we expect that. But planning for time away is a key element to their overall success. They work with their learning coach to plan ahead with extra tasks prior to departure, or work a little extra upon their return. The key to these elements can be in the planning and utilizing a list of things they need to accomplish to feel like they are meeting their personal goals. So what should you consider as an athlete or parent in guiding your utilization of a list?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

It has to be your own. It can’t be what Mom and Dad use unless you are sure it works for you. Try multiple formats before committing to a list completely. My story is a common challenge. There are so many choices and finding your perfect fit can seem overwhelming.

Do you use it? That is the key piece. You might find the greatest app ever for 99 cents and then realize you never use it. Throw it away and go back to the drawing board.

Look around you and see what you have with you in your workspace and carry with you daily. I have a yellow notepad that travels in my mobile workspace (backpack) that I rely on daily to keep my lists.

Detailed, but not too detailed. You need to refresh your memory about something, not layout the complete design for accomplishment. I often will include a name and phone number or just a quick phrase to jog the old brain on what I need to do with a various task.

Be realistic. Go to the moon. Although it’s something I’d like to do someday, it doesn’t qualify to make the list. Keep the items on your list realistic and shorter term.

Low hanging fruit. Add some things to your list that you know are quick hitters that you can get done in a few minutes. It’s a great feeling to scribble, cross, or check (your preference) those smaller things off the list early in the day.

Routine maintenance is important. I personally work to update my list twice per week depending on length. It allows me to measure progress and reevaluate my goals for the next few days.

Aim small. Miss small. Avoid looking at a list 2 pages long…in fact don’t build one. Breakdown bigger things into part of a smaller list. Big lists can be intimidating and the result can be ignoring them so they go away. Quick tip: They don’t go away.

Realize it’s your list. Not Mom’s, Dad’s, or Pete’s. This has to work for you…..and your list of course.

So, if your child is feeling off pace, or overwhelmed, take 5 minutes and make a small list of what they want to knock out just in that day. Do not lay out the 15 assignments in Algebra they have to do. Pick 3, then choose a few others from history and English. The point being: make it manageable for them. Allow them to figure out what list works for them, and certainly make sure they are crossing off things early and often in the process. My hope is that they are able to develop a deep relationship with the power of the list, and that you all don’t end up with colored post-it notes all over your house. However, give it a shot, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. And now I can cross off “write blog post” from my list.