Throw away your to-do listBlog added by Sandy Schussel on January 2, 2014
Sandy Schussel

Sandy Schussel

Princeton, NJ

Joined: December 10, 2011

My Company

Sandy Schussel, LLC

I always try to provide you with a message of value — either to keep you motivated or to help you hone your skills to build your practice with more and better clients. Today's message has an almost Shakespearean relevance: to do, or not to do? That is the question.

During my workshops, when I ask participants to describe their biggest challenge, time management is often ahead of getting or keeping clients. But since we can't really "manage" time — only our activities — thinking in this way can get us stuck in an approach-avoidance tango with ourselves. So I want to see if I can shift your perspective.

If you have created a traditional to-do list that is now 31 pages long and leaving you feeling overwhelmed, throw it out. Or, at least, put it away in your drawer for a moment. Before you do, however, pull from it the six things you believe are the most important, and put them on a sheet of paper that you can keep on top of your desk. Prioritize those six things — and only those six things — from most important to least important, and only then, begin working on number one, taking it as far as it can go. Tomorrow, maybe move on to list item number two, and so on.

In the early 1900s, the industrialist Charles Schwab paid consultant Ivy Lee $25,000 for this one idea. At first, Schwab did not believe that ignoring his huge list and focusing on just six things could possibly work. After a month, however, he was excited to find he had finished more projects in those four weeks than he had in any previous month. Try this strategy for just one month, and see for yourself.

While you're at it, make another list of things not to do. As my colleague, David Ward, describes: "You have unlimited choices. But you don’t have unlimited time. As you choose what to do, you also choose what not to do. The word 'decide' means to 'kill the other option.' If you want to accomplish great things, you must focus on great things and let go of things that are merely good. Give up good to go for great."

A to-not-do list might look something like this:

1. Check my smart phone.
2. Turn on my email client.
3. Go on Facebook.
4. Reorganize my files.
5. Be hard on myself.
6. Procrastinate!

Remember, this is only for now. Set the hours by which you choose to abide by your to-not-do list. Then, schedule in the time slots when you're allowed to break the rules, and put this list back in your drawer for the evening. Suddenly you'll feel like you're managing time. Your story about your own ineffectiveness will change. You'll be thrilled with how much less you procrastinate when it's one of the six items on your new to-not-do list.

See also: The benefits of calendaring and time management
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