Do You Need To Kill Your To-Do List To (Finally?) Achieve Your Goals

You know how whenever you go on holiday you make all these grand resolutions about how magically different your life will be once you return? I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. For me this, the impending transformation of my life and over-packed schedule is something I daydream about even on a weekend getaway, so you can imagine how grandiose my fantasies became on my recent 6-week trip of the US and Canada. 6 weeks of breathing space from ‘normal’ life has me determined to turn over a new leaf or two, and to do it starting right away. My main focus is figuring out a way to have more free time to focus on the things that are truly important to me.

  • Time for my family and myself (I’m talking real time, not the kind where I’m doing my emails or admin while trying to read a book with my daughter or watch a movie with Enzo).
  • Time to breathe and reflect – either alone with my journal, or over a morning coffee with friends. Typically I don’t make time for this sort of thing because I have so much to get through on my daily list that I can’t possibly stop to focus on the present.
  • Time to work on my big 3 goals for the next 12 months without being constantly distracted by afore-mentioned list.

If you’re like me in that you tend to take on way too much, find it tough to say no to anyone or anything, or are simply spectacularly good at being busy 24/7, then you’ll know how tough achieving this simple 3-point list is going to be. Not least because regardless of how impressive your intentions, the reality is that returning from any sort of holiday generally has you hitting the ground running as you desperately try and catch up on all that important stuff you’ve come to resent so much. And before even so much as a week has gone by you realise that you’re right back where you’ve always been. Over-scheduled to the max, 36+ items on your daily task list, and bouncing from coffee to coffee as you smile your way through your whirlwind life and try to tell yourself you are going to make those changes. Soon. Just as soon as you get a chance to think about exactly how you might do that. Just not this week of course – this week is crazy. Next week for sure.


Could it be time to kill your to-do list?

Do you remember a time when you just woke up, had breakfast at some sort of leisurely pace, read the papers or a book or just chatted before starting your day? When you didn’t have a checklist to work through, because you only had a few big important things in your life to worry about (like, say, passing school that year or finding the perfect dress for your formal) and so it was hardly likely you’d forget about them? When it was only natural that once the ‘work’ part of the day ended (well before dinner!) you’d hang out with your friends, or watch a show, or read, or simply be? Man I miss high school sometimes! But seriously, why can’t we live our lives this way as adults? Why has it become so impressive to fill every teeny-tiny minute of your life? To the point where your feet have barely hit the floor before you have 3-5 tasks on the go and your mind whirring with all the possible combinations of activities you have to get through and how best to churn your way through them? Sanity be damned huh?

the power of less

A few months back one of my mentor’s, Charles Poliquin, recommended the book The Power of Less. It’s one I’d heard of many times around the blogosphere, but considered that I didn’t need because I already read the author’s blog Zen Habits and know all that he has to say on productivity and getting more done. Yes, I can be quite arrogant on occasion – and in my post-vacation fantasy-land I decided to be honest about the fact that whatever it is I’ve been trying to do productivity-wise is not working for me. It’s working in terms of output, but the output is not necessarily as on-track with my goals as I’d like it to be, and it’s sure not working for me in terms of feeling in control of my time and my life.

So I went ahead and kindled The Power of Less from Amazon, and have been taking some time to read it every night this past week. Here’s what I’ve learned and already started to apply:

  • You have to have limits on most things in your life – especially the stuff that consumes time without really adding satisfaction. Emails and admin are prime examples, but you can apply limits to just about everything. Start by considering the things that typically demand daily time from you – especially those tasks you tend to just keep chipping away at because they’re never really complete.
  • It’s futile to try and work on more than a small handful of big goals at a time. You’ll just bounce around with no clear direction and find it difficult to complete anything. Choose just 3 big goals for the next 12 months.
  • Ticking off 1 big goal does not allow you to add on another – you have to finish all 3 and then set 3 more. This stops you constantly pushing something back.
  • Each day you should spend time working on at least one of your big goals. Alternatively you can simply look at your to-do list and kill anything that doesn’t tie in to one of your big goals (and set limits for the fiddly ‘must-do’ tasks).
  • A great way to keep yourself on track daily is to set 3 Most Important Tasks for that day. These are the 3 things that – if you get nothing else done – will make that day a success and have you going to bed satisfied. I’ve been doing this for a week and it’s given me an incredible sense of freedom and achievement.

If you think about it, all of this advice is about doing less rather than more (hence the title of the book :)). And let’s be realistic. You’re never ever ever going to complete everything on your to-do list, so why are you letting your life flit by as you so earnestly try to achieve the impossible? For me, this is a work in progress. I can’t say I’ve completely killed my list, but I’ve definitely reduced the feeling of urgency to Get Everything Done. And I have killed a few big projects that didn’t tie in to my 3 big goals. Which feels fantastic.

How about you? Think about the past 12 months – did you achieve 3 big goals? Would you like to do so in the next 12 month period? Could it be time you started killing your to-do list? Time to start doing less to achieve more? Or perhaps you have a productivity tip of your own to share? Please comment below!

You can check out The Power of Less here. You can buy it as an e-book or a paperback.