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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Help! My “To Do” List is Massive!

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What are you going to do over the next 12 months?  Does it ever bear thinking about?

Here’s my guess – you couldn’t possibly boil it down to a few fundamental topics.

Instead, you probably want to learn more law, become a better lawyer, get a promotion or a title change, perhaps find a new job (or a job at all), finish your studies, have some parties, go out with some friends, catch up more with your family, clean up our office more often, get your time recording under control, spend more quality time with your kids, and many, many more.

It sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

What Most People Do When They are Overwhelmed

Nothing. That’s right – faced with a huge list of “want to do this” and “would like to do that” the vast majority of people simply do nothing.

It’s an odd phenomenon, but I’ll bet you’ve experienced it, just like I have.  You’ve got 16 options of what you could do next, so instead of doing one of them you sit down and look at Facebook. Or watch your endless Twitter stream scroll itself by.

You know, intellectually, that what you’re doing isn’t very productive.  You know, beneath the surface, that your actions are not aligning with your desires.

But you do it anyway.

A Time for Careful Selection

If your “to do” list seems too long, then there’s a reasonably good prediction I can make about why: it probably is. For most of us, our to do list is a far cry from the strategic prioritization and reminder system that it should be. Instead, it’s a jumble of accumulated priorities, wishlists, agendas and vague concepts.

You life size “to do” list should be anything but. It requires you to sit down and make some really self-aware decisions about what really needs to be done.

If you let other people control your list, then you will be overwhelmed. If you add everything to your list, then you will be overwhelmed.

If you are incapable of saying no, then you will be overwhelmed. Instead you need to stop, take a breath, and write down the few things that really matter in your life.

These are the things that at the end of your life you can genuinely look back and say “I’m so glad I devoted my time, energy and dedication to that goal”.

It’s the essentials.

Overwhelm Doesn’t Come from Too Much to Do

What you’ll start to see in this exercise is that the feeling of overwhelm doesn’t actually come from having too many things on your list.

It comes from having the wrong things on your list. It comes from having other people’s priorities on your list.  It comes from leaving inherited priorities on your list.  It comes from a lack of self-awareness and a lack of genuine honesty with yourself about what really matters.

So What can You Do about It?

It’s fairly straightforward, but I know for a fact that the majority of people who see this article aren’t going to do this.  That’s fine – but the ones that do are going to really see the benefits.  Test this out:

  • throw your current to do list in the bin (whether it’s paper or memory – just purge it)
  • write down the 5 things that matter most to you in your life – yes, 5.  It’s really hard, but this is where you need to be in a quiet room, by yourself, and do this absolutely honestly
  • consider all the things you do in your life that are not deliberately, actively and strategically working towards the benefit of, growth of, or acquisition of the “thing” that you wrote down in the previous step – and stop doing them
  • regenerate your “to do” list (you might want to write it down – it can help make it real).  However, limit your “to-do” list to one thing: what’s next.  Ensure that what’s on your list aligns with one of those most important things – it should be deliberately working towards those things.  That’s right – your “to do” list has just one item on it.
  • Do the thing in your “to do” list.
  • Then repeat the last two steps.

Over time you will be amazed how much your productivity will increase by drilling down to one simple question: what’s next?

Happy Lawyering!

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  1. Another great article, Chris. As a junior practitioner, I find your posts both humorous and helpful. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    I don’t have much to comment on for this particular article, but I did see your email and you said to comment so that you know I care. How could I not when you asked so nicely?

    I promise I’ll try to make the next comment a bit more substantive.

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