I’ve always been a big fan of lists, like, nerdily obsessed with buying stationary so I could make more lists and always having to start my day with a list or twenty. In fact, I’ve written a few to-do lists since I started typing (which is probably why this took me so long to get started on). Post-it notes became a staple in my purse and around my house (in the bedroom, kitchen, living room, office, etc) at a very young age, and I always had to have a few working pens and a notepad with me at all times because I never knew when inspiration would strike and I needed to start a list for some extraordinary idea or goal, or groceries. I’ve always been a list maker and a to-do list abider- once it was on the list, it had to get done in some form or fashion- there was no resting until the list was done. But what was once a helpful guide of how my day or week should go turned into something I started loathing and that started causing problems and more stress for me. I had so much to do that when I’d look at my list I’d start to feel so overwhelmed that I’d do, well, basically nothing with it. It all became so overwhelming and tiresome.
I realized sometime in 2018 that I was planning all wrong, somewhere along the way I had an epiphany that this clearly wasn’t working and I wasn’t using my time the right way. I was adding things to a list to do and just trying to run down the exhausting list as fast as possible, I was putting things on my calendar in an order and fashion that didn’t make much sense and killing myself to complete things ASAP when they really could wait. I prioritized what I could, but when everything seemed like such a high priority because there was so much to it, and I felt like I was the only one doing anything, getting even a handful of items done off the list became such a mentally and emotionally daunting ask of myself.
Above all else, I forgot one of the cardinal rules of productivity- it does not mean getting more and more things done, it means getting the right things done in the best manner possible. I stopped planning with intent and just started planning. We are all guilty of this- throwing things onto our to-do list because we know it needs done (do the laundry, get groceries, do THIS, grab THAT, finish X, start Y) but when it comes to planning for the items that aren’t required of us to just get by each day (ie- the shit we need to get done to improve our lives and achieve our goals) we kind of just squeeze in as many of the random tasks we need to do into our day (read this book, apply to this position, make a new resume, call ABC for a reference, etc, etc) instead of focusing on intentional tasks and intentional planning- planning tasks with a purpose instead of just adding things to a list to get done.
That is why, when I started to plan my week and dumping on a list all of my to-do items I would stop and ask myself questions centered around finding the value in the task like:
- What value this task was adding towards my end goal?
- When does this really need to get done?
- What is the true purpose of the task? Is it truly purposeful?
If I had no clear understanding of what value this task was adding to my final goal was, or what the true purpose was, I knew I could scratch it for now and come back to it another week if needed. I also started to choose times in the day during the week where I could perform that task at my best (such as meetings before 9am or after 2pm are almost always a no-go, doing anything creative on a Monday is out of the question) and time-blocking each task to focus on just that item for an entire hour (or two), or until it is done, so I can give it my full attention and devotion. I focused on daily tasks that were bite size enough to not exhaust me that, when they eventually piled up, would result in bigger things and a step (or a few) forward.
Last, but certainly not least, I also started delegating things out to others– no, you can’t do 100% of your project research by yourself, answer all of your emails on time, do your own heads-down work, eat, sleep, and pee, so ask for help. And also, no, you should most definitely not have to do all the dishes, laundry, sweeping, cooking, and emotional labor at home when you have a perfectly useful husband sitting on the couch- that is why you have a partner to, ya know, be your partner. Ask your partner to help lessen your burden by taking over tasks you know they can do so you can focus on other items.
So, CEO, I challenge you to redefine your tasks and planning. Before you add an item to your to-do list (you can grab my list templates for free here) ask yourself why you need to complete this particular task and what it is pushing you towards achieving, ask yourself if this is an item you can delegate out and do so as needed, block off needed distraction-free time to get it done, and, if that list gets too long and overwhelming, revisit it and talk with yourself and others about moving deadlines and tasks around so you aren’t burning out before you even get started.