Ignoring the to-do list

The daily “things I have to do” list is familiar to every single one of us.

It’s about urgency. What has to happen TODAY. What has to happen NOW.

It’s about checking off boxes and crossing things off that list, and that feels good and triggers a little endorphin rush in the brain and makes us feel like we are moving forward.

But most of the time we are not moving forward by checking off the list. We are simply checking things off. It’s not part of a larger plan.

So why do we get bogged down in this endless cycle of making lists every day and crossing things off? Because it’s safe. It’s not scary.

Want to know what is scary? The bigger picture. The longer view. The full year ahead. The decade ahead. That can be intimidating and heavy. So we run to the safety of the urgent by making simple daily to-do lists.

So try this out: go ahead and make a to-do list. All the things you have to do today, both professionally and personally. All the phone calls you have to make. All the memos you have to send. All the meetings you have to organize. All the things you need to buy for dinner tonight. Then put that list away for one hour. And in that hour (with the cell phone off) take a blank sheet of paper and work on the longer term goals. What do you need to accomplish, how are you going to do it, and what is the timeframe?

After an hour of doing that (more important) work, that daily to-do list sure does look different.

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