The power of “The Suck List”

I have lots of lists that I keep track of and regularly update:

  • Side project ideas
  • Business ideas
  • Movies and shows to watch
  • Books to read
  • Gift ideas for various people
  • Blog post ideas

But there’s one list that I’ve found to be more valuable than the rest of them combined. I call this list “Things That Suck About My Life”. Here’s the process that I went through along with some random thoughts on why it’s been helpful for me.

Step 1. Write the list

This is the most fun step, because everyone likes to complain about their problems.

There’s nothing to it. You literally just sit there and write a giant list of every possible crappy thing you can think of about your life at that moment in time.

Try to keep it a little higher level than “I’m hungry” and a little lower level than “the world is terrible”, but other than that, there are no rules. Just get it all out, and as you continue to think of more things throughout the day, make sure you add them.

Step 2: Sort the list by suckiness

Now you want to order the list by suckiness. Put the suckiest things at the top and the least-sucky (in other words, whiniest) things at the bottom.

This will give you a rough idea about priority. The things that float to the top are probably the things that are going to make you the happiest to fix.

You could also attempt an Eisenhower Matrix here as a fancier way of deciding priority, but I like to keep things simple and not overthink it.

Step 3: Brainstorm solutions for suckiest thing

Find the suckiest thing about your life, and start a NEW list (or a sub-list) to hold a brainstorm of ideas for improving that thing.

Say the suckiest thing in your life is that your job is incredibly stressful. The brainstorm list for that item could contain anything from “start new job search” to “find a therapist” to “talk to my boss”.

Step 4: Implement the solutions

This really isn’t rocket surgery. Just pick a possible solution that seems reasonably likely to work and give it a solid try. If it leads nowhere then try another solution.

Eventually, one of three things will happen:

  1. One of the solutions will fix the problem completely
  2. One of the solutions will improve the problem enough that it’s no longer the suckiest thing
  3. None of the solutions will do crap

If #3 happens, then you’re in the unfortunate position of either have to accept that the problem is just a part of your life and you have to learn to deal with it, OR you have to confront the idea that maybe you didn’t actually list all of the possible solutions. If that’s the case, then maybe you left a couple out that seemed impossible to implement or scary or just didn’t occur to you.

Step 5: Move on to the next item in the suck list

And on and on we go, improving your life one step at a time.

Step 6: Update on a regular basis

Set a weekly or monthly reminder to update and reprioritize your suck list, so that you can continually be working on the suckiest things.

This seems completely idiotic, right?

I know it seems dumb, because human beings are already just naturally trained to identify their problems and try to fix them. If your toe hurts, you’ll recognize that and figure out what’s causing it so that it can be fixed, right? So why go to all this effort of making lists?

The power here is that you’re being proactive about it. You’re not just dealing with things as they come up. You’re actually listing everything and working through them in order of priority. This means two things:

  1. You’re more likely to fix the most important things rather than just what’s bothering you at that specific moment.
  2. You’re more likely to identify problems that could have otherwise been flying under the radar.

Using this pattern everywhere

This doesn’t just have to be the things that suck about your life. It can be things that suck about anything! Because everything sucks, right? Try it out:

  • Things that suck about my job skills
  • Things that suck about my child’s behavior
  • Things that suck about my current project
  • Things that suck about my house

So give it a shot. Feel free to tweet at me to let me know what you think.

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