My earliest memory of making a to-do list began when I was six years old. As I sit at my desk in my bedroom with my pencil in hand, I begin to write a list of everything that I need to do on a piece of lined loose-leaf paper.
The list goes something like this:
- 7:30am wake up
- 7:35am make my bed
- 7:45am wash my face
- 8:00am brush my teeth
- 8:15am have breakfast
And that’s how it all started. My obsession with making lists.
Perhaps I thought that making a list would help me remember all of the things that I had to do.
But looking at it through the lens of human psychology, perhaps it was a way for me to create some semblance of order in my chaotic six-year-old brain.
I continued my list-making tradition well into high school and University, and although my checklists served me well in keeping me focused, helping me stay on track and making progress toward my goals — my list was also a hindrance.
My list-building habit was perpetuating a work ethic that was rooted in ‘doing.’
As long as I was doing stuff, I was being productive. And productive was good, right?
The habit of list-making was engendering an “I’ve got to be busy”frame of mind, and as long as I was checking stuff off the list and accomplishing seeminglyimportant things on a daily basis, then I was productive; I was successful.
To me, checking things off the list indicated I was making progress, I was achieving something.
I was being a good little girl.
Which meant I was worthy of praise and reward for my doing-ness.
In a world where I was not being truly seen for who I was, this new discovery meant that I could be seen for what I did instead. Eureka!
While this may seem like a great life hack for success, it actually turned out to be a set-up for failure, which paradoxically speaking was the exact thing I was trying to avoid.
Because failure meant I was being a bad little girl. And bad girls aren’t worthy of love.
According to Janetti Marotta, PhD and author of the book 50 Mindful Steps To Self-Esteem; “your search for external validation to prove your worth to yourself has been guided by judgment, accompanied by mistaken assumptions, and fueled by striving — an incessant drive to push forward, compete, and aim for results that focus on the future.”
The problem with living a life driven by my list, was that my personal perception of my self-worth was being measured by whether or not I checked everything off as ‘done.’
So, in an attempt to set myself up for success, I was in fact setting myself up for failure.
The road to more only leads to greater feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, because there’s never enough.
My to-do list kept getting longer and I was perpetually running out of time to finish everything on it.
And the crazy thing is that I was the one who was making the list. Not anyone else but me. It was an act of self-sabotage and a total set-up.
I remember one instance in my early twenties while working at an administrative job, my Manager noticed my tendency of anxiously working through the piles of paperwork in my physical inbox (which was a tray that sat on my desk) and my constant need to stay overtime to finish what was on my list of things to do.
She told me something that reverberates in the back of my mind to this day; decades later. She said:
“Michela, your inbox will always be full.”
So, if the inbox is always full, then there is actually no reason to rush and stress myself out over the guilt, shame, and self-judgment I placed on myself for not finishing my work — and being a bad girl?
That was a paradigm shift for me.
I see many business owners struggle with getting through their to-do list and running out of time to get everything done that they have put on their ownplate.
One of my business mentors is the great leadership expert John Maxwell and he reminds me;
“people tend to over exaggerate yesterday, overestimate tomorrow, and underestimate today.”
Here are five key questions that helped me move from being a slave to my list, to being the master of my time, my self-worth, and my business’ bottom line:
1. Is It Urgent Or Important?
Not everything has to be done today, or tomorrow. (Or ever!)
2. Get It Done Or Get It Perfect?
Imperfectly done is better than perfectly not done.
3. Do It, Delegate It or Dump It?
4. What Needs To Go?
If you choose to take something on, you have to let something go to make room for the new thing.
5. Does It Support Or Sabotage Getting To The Goal?
Be strategic, not distracted. Everything you do is either supporting or sabotaging your efforts.
Imagine, you reach the end of your day and feel good, refreshed and joyful. Everything you’ve done that day was intentional and moved you forward in growing the visibility, credibility, profitability, sustainability or scalability of your business.
What is one thing you would do differently today or tomorrow that you’re not doing now?
To your success,
This article was originally published on Medium: The StartUp Publication