Setting goals has always come naturally to me. I’ve been sketching out plans in the margins of childhood diaries as far back as I can remember. And everybody knows you only get somewhere once task at a time. But what do you do when keeping track of what to do starts getting in the way of achieving your goals?

For a long time, list making served me well. Todo lists helped me figure out what’s important to me, set goals, stay on task and ultimately accomplish more. But the busier I got, the larger my todo list became and the harder time I had prioritizing. I started to feel trapped and overwhelmed—and it was starting to be a lot of work just to keep the list together. At the height of my list making heyday I had lists that included every nuance of my daily regimen including when to have sex. Super sexy, huh?

When your Todo List becomes a thing that you have to do, it’s time to re-evaluate.

It seems obvious now that list making was a way for me to gain some control over what was mostly an uncontrollable life doing things that I really didn’t want to do all that much.

About a year ago, I had to come to terms with my Master List—a fictionally important list that I created that contains all the mini lists from sticky notes, phone apps, and notes I’ve taken on the computer that allows me to get the big picture of all the work to be done. My Master List includes everything from personal and business goals to when to change the furnace filter and trim the dogs’ nails. From this list, I would create check lists so I could tic things off as I went to try and make myself feel like I was accomplishing more.

Have I mentioned how this list includes not just my todos, but my husband’s too! Maybe I should give him a sticker if he’s a good boy?

WELCOME TO THE PLANNING TRAP

In short, I had fallen into a Planning Trap. By always meticulously planning every aspect of my life, I was stunting my creativity and missing opportunities because I was too busy!

HOW I ESCAPED

Organization is a very personal thing—so if you are feeling empowered and happy with your lists, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke! Luckily, I’ve finally stumbled onto that ONE THING that helped me prioritize and it is so gloriously simple that I want to share it with you!

Ask yourself the following two questions when going over your massive ToDo list:

1. What are the three (or five or whatever) most important things to me in life?

2. Does this task support me in living the life I want to live?

Did I just make your todo list go away? I’ll bet not. (I still have to change the furnace filter too.)

WHY THESE TWO QUESTIONS MATTER

We all know people who are able to follow their creative genius and not sweat the details. Often these people have problems in their personal life because they are so focused on their art that they neglect everything else—but I think we can learn something from them:

There is a cost to always being so busy that you can’t focus on what’s important to you—and the payment is your life.

This revelation has caused me to constantly ask myself, “Does doing this really matter—and to whom does it matter?” If the answer isn’t that it matters to me and it’s part of the life I want to live, I try to find a way to eliminate that task. I used to focus on delegating tasks, but as anyone in management will tell you, delegating does not take away the responsibility of the task. I’d much rather eliminate it altogether if possible.

Much of what I need to do has not changed. What has changed is the way I approach what needs to be done. I have just a few things that are very important to me and most of the other stuff that was on my todo list was diverting my attention away from what really matters. I don’t want to be on my deathbed thinking, ‘Wow, I’m so glad I had a strict rotation of furnace filters.’ Even though that particular item is still on the Master List. Ha.

So as you may have guessed, old habits die hard and I haven’t given up lists completely. But I now approach my time differently. I spend more of it working on the things that make me feel good, and less of it on things that don’t. Just giving myself a bit more headroom has reinvigorated my creativity and made me more efficient when I do have to tackle the mundane stuff.

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