Productivity is a disease.
Seriously. I really think that our obsession with getting things done has become a global sickness.
Notice what I said there. The disease is not procrastination. It’s actually our desire to be optimally productive and efficient all the time.
To-do lists were supposed to be a cure. They were supposed to make us less stressed, not more. We’re not evolutionarily wired to check things off a list proactively - we’re wired to run from things trying to kill us and hunt when we’re starving.
Most people feel like we can’t relax until everything on our checklists are done. And for most of us, that will never happen.
Why? Because we have way too much shit on our to-do lists.
Here are 5 ways to whittle your to-do list down to nothing (without actually doing anything):
1. Want vs. Should
This is a key distinction, because many of us put things on our to-do lists that have no business being there: shoulds. As soon as someone tells me “I really should do ____”, I can guarantee they are not going to do that thing.
Like how your friend who says, “I should really stop eating ice cream...” is never going to stop eating ice cream.
Until that should becomes a want, it doesn’t belong on your to-do list. Yes, there are things we find unpleasant that need to be done. But until you know why it’s important for you to do them, the motivation is all external.
If it’s not a want, delete it.
2. Core Brilliance
We all have things that we are uniquely passionate about and good at. Only by focusing on those things (and delegating, outsourcing, or stopping all the rest) can we reach our full potential as entrepreneurs.
If you are not focusing on your core brilliance, you are replaceable. I’m willing to bet that most of the things on your to-do list right now are not actually in your personal zone of brilliance. They could be done just as well or better by someone else.
Focusing on your core brilliance takes some effort because you have to first figure out what you’re really good and then organize your life and work around those things. But it's worth it in the long run. This is one of the main things I help my personal coaching clients do (check out my free True North Toolkit if you need a place to start).
Obviously, we have to do things occasionally that aren't part of your core brilliance. But if you find yourself doing something over and over again that isn't your strength (like accounting), it's worth thinking about ways to get that task off your plate.
3. Creative Avoidance
The reason to-do lists sucks is because there is no hierarchy. It’s just a bunch of checkboxes. Naturally, you're going to check off the ones that are easiest first.
What if you focused only on the most important thing?
If something has stayed on your to-do list for more than a few days, it may be because you are scared of doing it. These are the things you need to start doing first, before anything else (hint: if it doesn’t scare you, it’s probably not worthwhile).
Once you start prioritizing your to-do list based on fear, it will become a lot more valuable to you. Check out my guide on Creative Avoidance for more on this.
If it’s not scary, delete it.
4. Schedule and Create Habits
Putting something on a to-do list is useless unless you eventually find a time to actually do the thing. When is this task going to get done? Put it on your calendar as soon as possible and take it off your to-do list.
Even better, create daily rituals and routines so that the things you want to do get done every day, automatically. For example, “Write” should not be on your to-do list. Come up with specific time and ritual for your daily or weekly writing, and create a habit instead. Habits are so much more powerful than tasks, because they compound.
Schedule it, then delete it. If it’s not important enough to schedule, just delete it.
5. Results vs. Time
This is one of the most important distinctions I ever learned. As an entrepreneur (and we’re all going to need to behave like entrepreneurs now), you get paid for your results, not for the time you spend.
The other day I had a coaching call with a potential client. We had 90 minutes scheduled. But 30 minutes in, he got an insight that changed everything and that required action.
So we ended the call. Coaching is not about the time you spend, it’s about the insights you get and how you apply them. The same is true in business.
Honestly, I don’t care how many things you check off today. I don’t care how busy you are. All I care about are your results. Did you make money? Did you make an impact?
As a business owner, I never want to be busy. If I’m feeling busy, something’s wrong. The only thing I’m really trying to do is create a container of creativity and self-care so that when an opportunity arises to do the real work (create content, connect with inspiring people, serve through conversation), I can do those things well.
If it’s busy work, delete it.
Here’s the irony: our obsession with productivity is actually hurting our productivity. True productivity is about producing a significant and meaningful results by doing less, not more.
What do you need to not do today?