What happens when you have a perfect plan and to-do list all written out and you still don’t seem to get the things that matter to you done?
This is one of the biggest myths in the productivity world: that all it takes to ‘get things done’ is to write it all down, and then figure out a way to do it, delegate it, or schedule it for another time.
While of course it helps to have a system, why doesn’t it always work? One of the biggest culprits? Is perfectionism.
Because it’s easy to write a list of to-dos. In fact, it’s fun! The hard part is actually getting started. And if you not only want to get things done, but get them done ‘perfectly’…then it’s no wonder not a lot gets done at all. What happens if we fail? What if we don’t do it right?
So what can you do? Advice that tells you to ‘just schedule it’ or ‘write down to-dos’ isn’t the right place to start. Here are 3 tweaks you can make to your day immediately so you can always follow-through.
1. Figure out what your true priorities are
It is so rare for people to actually sit down BEFORE they write down a list of tasks and ask themselves: What do I actually want? And how does what I’m about to do today move me forward on that?
But asking yourself what you want is a big question. So break it down: What do you want your day to look and feel like? What do you want your relationships to be like? What do you want your health to be like?
How does this help?
Knowing what you want is one of the first steps to help change your behavior. So for example, if for ‘health’ you want to sleep a solid 7 hours every night, but you’re currently only getting 5, there are very small changes you can make to improve that. Instead of trying to jump up to 7 hours a night–which would be too dramatic a change–go for 5.5 hours a night. That might mean going to bed 30 minutes earlier, or even letting yourself wake up 30 minutes later. And when you get more sleep, you’re more well rested, clear-headed, and have energy for the rest of the day.
Action step: Answer those questions as specifically as you can, as if you’re living it: “I get 8 hours a sleep a night” and “I get one of my most important to-dos done between 9 and 11am because I know when I do that, I set the rest of my day up for success”.
2. Break down your ‘to-dos’
Typically we’re told that you should write every single ‘to-do’ down so it’s real and then go through them one by one like a checklist. But what if there’s a ‘to-do’ on there that isn’t a true priority? What if making a phone call to your mom can wait until the weekend vs. today?
While I advocate for making a list of what needs to be done, you want to have a framework to evaluate what’s worth your time, and what isn’t. Too often we find ourselves pulled in a million directions and ‘fighting fires’ all day, when the reality is we go home and feel like we didn’t do anything that was important or worthwhile.
So when you look at your ‘to-do’ list, ask yourself these questions:
Does this need to get done RIGHT now? What would happen if I waited, or scheduled it? If it’s truly important, get it done today.
Can this be scheduled, or can I get help? I know that we think undone dishes, laundry, and other mundane tasks must be done the moment we notice them, but in reality, they can wait! This doesn’t mean that mess needs to pile up. It means to get smart about HOW it gets done. What if you could schedule laundry for a Sunday after dinner? What if you could ask your partner to do the dishes for you? Another big myth is that we think we have to do it all ourselves. Imagine the relief that when you ask for help, you get things done faster, and you have more energy to focus on what you love!
Can this be left undone? Now, this is hard. Like one of my clients said: “There’s nothing that can’t be left undone.” But is that true?
For example, I have a package I’m supposed to mail, and I’ve been having to do it for about a month now. It would be relatively easy to do. But it’s simply not a priority, and I could likely go an entire year without doing it and have no consequences. I’ll get to it when I get to it.
Action step: Break down your ‘to-dos’ and ask yourself these questions. You’ll be amazed at how your to-do list magically shrinks and only leaves what’s truly important to YOU to get done.
3. Design your day so it allows you to focus and have energy
Even after you figure out what your priorities are and know how to evaluate your ‘to-dos’, that’s still not enough. Your day-to-day has to be designed in a way that allows you to focus, handle distractions that come up (because they will), and have enough energy to give your all to what’s at hand.
To start having the kind of days that would allow for this, try this exercise:
Do an ‘audit’ of your day, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. What happens? How do you feel? What do you find yourself doing, perhaps automatically, that isn’t what you actually want to be doing?
Then, for your action step, see if you can find just ONE tweak you can make that aligns with your priorities. If it’s sleep, focus on that. If it’s eating a healthier breakfast, see if you can ADD healthy food (like berries), instead of trying to subtract right now. You want it to be manageable, enjoyable, and easy to measure. For example, if you slept an extra hour, do you feel more energetic, or more tired? You get to see what works just for you.
This is the reason why ‘perfect plans’ and just scheduling things are rarely enough to get the best out of your day, and yourself. There’s so much more to productivity than just ‘tasks’! When you look at the whole picture, you can make small changes and get big results.