Most of the coaches and consultants I know have a volatile relationship with their to-do lists.
To-do lists are often seen as a staple in the arsenal of productivity tools. We all love that feeling of moving a Trello card to the “Finished” list or checking off a box in Asana or Basecamp. It makes us feel organized and super productive like we’re actually getting things done, right?
On the other hand, though, there’s that sinking feeling when your to-do list is longer at the end of the day than it was when you started. Tasks just keep piling on and sometimes it seems never ending.
There are also those dreaded jobs that sit in your queue for ages and ages and never get done, planting the seeds of self-doubt every time we notice them.
One reason our lists grow out of control has to do with our nature. I think all coaches and consultants (and all entrepreneurs, for that matter) have a tendency to be overly optimistic which often leads to overcommitting. I know I’m definitely guilty of that!
But, there’s another reason we may be less aware of: maybe there are things on our to-do lists that should’ve never made it there in the first place.
Right now, I want to share some tips for keeping your to-do list manageable for maximum productivity.
Stop Chasing Efficiency
If I wasn’t allowed to teach marketing to coaches anymore, I think I’d dedicate my life to teaching productivity. I’m incredibly passionate about it — maybe even obsessed with it — but it’s not because I’ve totally mastered it in my own life.
The truth is, productivity has always been my arch nemesis ever since I got started in coaching. I’d start stuff and not finish. I’d get distracted and disorganized, and my to-do list would get out of control.
So, I went on an epic quest to try and conquer my own productivity and efficiency demons. I bought every book I could find on efficiency, took tons of time-management courses, and tested out every productivity software tool you can think of.
At the end of the day, none of it really worked for me because I couldn’t stick to it. I felt cramped, constrained, and completely out of my element.
Here’s what I learned: efficiency isn’t for everybody (and that’s okay).
Right now in our world, there’s way too much focus on efficiency. By “efficiency” I’m talking about the idea that if we can just work faster, shorten our meetings, and cut our lunch breaks, then we can handle more stuff and get even more done.
Even the corporate world is obsessed with efficiency. There’s less staff to do more jobs, so we just have to be more efficient and multitask better, right?
I think that’s total rubbish!
Why would we want to become more efficient just so we can cram more into our already overflowing schedules?
There’s something really wrong about this to me. As Ricardo Semler says, when did it become okay to work on a Saturday but not okay to go to the movies on a Monday?
Wouldn’t it be nice to work on just the high-value projects and then take time to enjoy other things without feeling guilty?
Wouldn’t it be great to be 100% ON when we’re working and get stuff done so that when we’re not working we can be 100% OFF. No more living in that gray area of ‘sort of working’/’sort of not working’. No more checking our email when we’re trying to spend time with our kids, right?
Freedom to live our lives the way we want doesn’t come from efficiency. It comes from elimination.
3 Filters to Just Say No
Every week we get great ideas, projects, and opportunities thrown at us. Typically, we say, “Yes! No worries. I’ll add that to my list.” Then, before we know it, we have an enormous to-do list that goes on forever.
What if we changed our default response to “No thanks!”
It’s a simple concept, but many of us are wired to say yes. And while we can’t simply rewire our brains, we can use these three filters to be more intentional about what we put on our to-do list.
Filter #1 — Mission
The first question to ask when given a new opportunity is, “As a company, do we even do this?”
If I get an offer to go speak to a group that isn’t made up of coaches and consultants, I ask, “Do we even do that?” If not, I can say no and feel great about it because it’s not in line with our mission.
“Thanks for the opportunity, but no thank you!”
If the answer to “Do we do this?” is yes, then we move on to the next filter.
Filter #2 — Priority
The question of the Priority Filter is “Do we have to do this now?”
For me, I know I have six projects every quarter — three projects to improve our marketing and three projects to improve the Black Belt program.
Even though I have a team that helps with those projects, they’re still my top priority. So, I ask, “Do we have to do this now?”, and if the answer is no, I can put it on my big Someday/Maybe list. Then, if I’ve completed my projects by the end of the quarter, I can reevaluate and decide if it’s something I want to do.
If it’s not a top priority we’ll say, “No thanks, not right now.”
If an opportunity fits within our mission and is a top priority, then we move on to the third filter.
Filter #3 — Role
Now we ask, “Do I have to do this myself?”
If you have a virtual assistant, team, or third party you can outsource that’s capable of handling the project, then the answer is no and you pass it off to them.
Using these filters, the only things that should make it onto your list are things that are in line with your mission, a top priority, and can only be handled by you.
Our main hope is to get a “No” from all three filters. Then, it’s something we don’t have to worry about. (Not just something we’ll have to worry about later, but something we’ll NEVER have to worry about.)
But if something passes through the filters and it’s something we do, something we should do right now, and it’s something that we should handle ourselves, then it’s 99% likely to be something we’re super excited about!
Elimination Trumps Efficiency
While these particular filters work for me and my business, they aren’t the only way to say no.
For example, Derek Sivers has a much more simple approach to filtering out whether or not he should take on something new. He says it’s either a ‘Hell Yes’ or a ‘No’. It’s binary. If he’s not completely excited about something and ready to say “Hell Yes”, he doesn’t do it. Period. The decision is made and he can move on to his next task.
Productivity is about getting things done, not about adding more things to our list. When we say no to the things that aren’t essential, we can give our full attention to the things that are.
I’m not saying less is more, but I do believe that less is better.
Stop worrying about efficiency and start thinking about elimination. That’s where your big breakthrough in productivity will come from.
So what about you?
What are some things you wish you could eliminate and say no to in your world? In your coaching business? In your personal life?
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