How Getting Rid of My To-Do List Helped Me Launch A New Career

 Photo By: Annie Vovan 

Photo By: Annie Vovan 

Inspiration can sometimes strike us at the worst possible times. In the shower, when we are driving, or when we are on a deadline for something else. But this piece isn’t about inspiration. It’s about why we put off things that we love to do because there’s so many other things to do.

This got me thinking of Toni Morrisson who wrote her novel in one hour chunks before heading out to work everyday and eventually this became the book that propelled her to literary success. What if she had never given herself that time?

There’s a lot going on in all of our lives. Last year, I actually stopped using to do lists. I started doing something I called a “success list” I would just do the MOST important things at the office on any given day.

But now it seems that there’s more things on my list that are MOST important. It’s hard to quantify what matters most.

I think there’s a few ways of tackling to do lists. There’s the people who will do the hardest thing first, then there’s people who will do the easiest things first just so they can cross them off the list, you can also prioritize based on things that others need from you, and then there’s the procrastinators who will avoid the most tedious things and then stress about having avoided those things.

But lets be real, a lot of us just stop and look at our phones in the middle of this and forget what we were doing.

I’ve got some strategies i’m implementing to help me combat this. First, I took a note from Tony Robbins and came up with all the priority areas of my life. I came up with 20 areas! But it was important to make sure i’m actually accounting for everything I care about. Thinking of them in this way forces to do what my old boss called “ruthless prioritization” where I do the things that are BIG and important. There’s a theory that 80 percent of your results will come from 20 percent of your actions that backs up my mindset.

When I was a managing a team, I learned that investing time in my direct-reports had tremendous benefits. Sometimes I would even take their calls after hours and I rarely skipped our 1:1 meetings. I made my best efforts to be attentive to all their needs. But here was the trick, the more supported they felt the better they performed at their own jobs and their confidence increased. This freed up more of my time to do other things. Because lets be real the inbox can be a time sucker at any office. I don’t need to read emails about the Summer Potluck right away. This method is how I managed to do my own job well and build the side-hustle that allowed me to actually leave the job later to pursue writing and creative work.

Now that i’m this new stage of my life, i’m learning everyday how to prioritize what’s important. I’ll give you an example, last week I filled the paperwork to formalize the business my partner and I have already been operating behind the scenes. Now, we could keep operating without the LLC designation and avoid paying the fees, but instead I was spending time trying to figure out how we were going to keep track of personal and business expenses.

We always knew we were pursuing self-employment not just to be “freelancers” but to be business owners.

This paperwork wasn’t urgent, no one was asking us for it and it’s not required we do it to serve clients. But it was important. It is the foundation upon which our business will be built!

Sometimes we find ourselves in a flurry doing things that are urgent but not important.

Here’s an example from another area in my life. It was Saturday morning and we had not made my son or stepdaughter Easter Baskets. (I know, we are monsters) At this point, this had become an urgent task since Easter was the next day. I could run to the store and try to make baskets, but I had to make a values based decision and accept that making Easter baskets just wasn’t the most important thing to me. It was urgent but not important based on my personal values. (Also grandma makes them kick-ass baskets with expensive candy)

Now we could argue the night I spent filling the LLC could have been spent on baskets. But this is the point, don’t let the urgent get in the way of what’s important to you.

Another way of thinking about this is that if things are super important to you, then planning ahead for those things will make it more likely you get them done. If sending your friends birthday cards is something you do to show love, then maybe put those in your calendar and put a reminder to send a card a week before. This way it won’t become a stressful task and you aren’t trying to remember where you put your stamps. (If not, you will end up with a bunch of cards you buy and don’t send like me)

After all, the way we spend our time is a reflection of our values and beliefs. These small and big decisions make all the difference in our lives.

How much time are you spending in the things that you care about the most? Are you letting others dictate where your priorities lie? Pay attention to the things you constantly procrastinate on or put off. What would happen if you changed that? What are the categories you want to work on that you are ignoring?

If you think there’s room for improvement think about one thing you can change starting today.

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Betsy cardenasComment