Throw Away Your To-Do List

So many of us who are in professional, managerial or executive positions, punish ourselves with unrealistic expectations. In my coaching practice I see my clients’ expectations of themselves, driving them off a cliff.

One of the flagship symptoms of destruction is a person’s to-do list. The basic premise is, “I have a full calendar of events 10-12 hours a day and I expect to accomplish my to-do list on top of my calendared items.” This mindset reminds me of a pack animal being whipped for not moving fast enough coupled with the psychological burden of not doing enough.

 The reaction is always similar when I suggest they delete their to-do list. After they recover from thinking I’m kidding, and questioning the decision to have me as a coach, they blurt out a phrase like, “Are you crazy, I would forget all the things I have to do!”

The next step would be to walk them through a review on his/her current process regarding their calendar and to do list.

 I generally ask, “Does your list shrink or grow?” Again, they look at me like I’m crazy and respond, “It constantly grows.” I ask, “How do you expect your list to shrink if you schedule a full day’s worth of work on it? All tasks take time to accomplish.”

 Given the fact that one must allot time to accomplish tasks, why not throw away your to-do list and just use your calendar? By scheduling the task ahead of time, you’re more likely to view it as a priority, rather than it sitting in limbo.

 I suggest they give the items they want to accomplish, time in their calendar. The next question is, “What if I don’t accomplish all of the items in my calendar?”

 A simple action would be to take five minutes at the end of your day to review your accomplishments, congratulate yourself and decide what task(s) you want to move forward to the next day(s). This accomplishes a few things:

  •  First, congratulating oneself is something rarely done and desperately needed. “How can you love others, if you don’t love yourself?” Short answer, you can’t. Again, being “self-centered” is a bad thing in our American psyche. While in principle being truly self-centered allows us to give to others. We’ve all heard the song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…” Love is in the mirror, take a few minutes to congratulate yourself and give yourself some love!
  • Recognition for your fine work and accomplishments. If you don’t recognize yourself, why in the heck do you expect anyone else to recognize you?
  • You start to get an idea about your tendency to “Over promise and Under-deliver.” You see how much longer things actually take to accomplish than the time you allow.
  • You see how things always “Fall through the cracks.” Out of ten scheduled events on your calendar you managed to complete work on five events. You now have five events to carry forward or delete from your calendar.
  • After working this way for a week you begin to realize how ridiculous your expectations of your self have been.
  • You realize you haven’t added anything to your to do list, because you are not getting what you’ve scheduled accomplished.

 When we process what is happening with the client’s calendar, I often hear something like, “I haven’t thrown away my to-do list, but I haven’t looked at it in the past two weeks either.” By daily reviews on the calendar, clients usually tell me how amazing it is to see all the vital information they were missing. Now they begin to understand they can do anything they want, but not everything.