Hacking Your ‘To Do’ List

I’ve often considered this question:  with so many competing priorities, how do we embed change into our everyday?

In 2013, I experimented with creating an accountability checklist.  It included space for everything from hours slept to minutes meditated.  It included a reminder to send notes to everyone who had a birthday that day, a place to mark down how many outstanding messages were in my Gmail and Outlook, and a check box to indicate I flossed.  Not every ambition was achievable every day – and, equally importantly, not every one of them was resonant every day.  As the months passed, I realized that while my list included many worthy goals, I was layering on accountability for more and more to dos, rather than accounting for how I wanted to be.

The question had become more complex:  It is not only a questions of how do we embed change into our everyday, but how do we embed change when it reflects the nebulous ‘ways we want to be’ instead of the more tangible ‘things we want to do’?

My solution – and one that has naturally stuck for a couple of years now – is to make a ‘to be’ list when I make my daily ‘to do’ list.  If you’re anything like me, writing a to do list comes naturally; my brain cannot account for everything that needs to get done, so I write it all down.  This became a natural departure point for the ways I wanted to be.  Here is my approach (repeated daily):

First, I list all my calendar items for the day.  These are my fixed commitments.  From meetings to appointments to social events, they’re unlikely to move.  This provides me with an idea of how much additional time remains.

Second, I list all my to dos.  What are the other things I need to accomplish today?  Sometimes this is a long list of mini-tasks, sometimes it is bigger blocks of thinking work that need space.  My calendar helps determine what’s possible.  For example, if I lack a stretch longer than thirty minutes, I won’t be able to make progress against my bigger tasks in that amount of time.  Thus, I will either break big tasks down into reasonable pieces or won’t put them on today’s list at all.  This helps me narrow my focus to what’s realistically do-able today.

So far, this sounds like a fairly normal approach.

The difference comes in the last step.  Finally, I add my to be list to the same piece of paper.  This connects my overarching personal development goals to the realities of today.  I consider where am I headed, who I’m becoming, and what skills I’m trying to build to get me there.  With this big ambition in mind, I look at my emerging list.  The intersection of my long-term aspirations and everyday realities gives me a handful of ideas of how I want to show up on that day in particular.  For example:

If I have a lot of calls, I might add:  “Listen intently and be fully present”.
If I see a block of time in the evening with less to do, I might add:  “Make time to connect with Liz tonight”.
If I have lots of thinking work to do and afraid that I’ll become too ‘caught up in my head’, I might add:  “Be connected with my body”.
If I see a one-on-one meeting with someone on my team, I might add:  “Show compassion and love”.

Happily, the bullet points I put on my ‘to be’ list rarely add more things to do; instead, they inform how I act while going about my day.

The power of the To Be List comes from setting micro-intentions about how to be and embedded them in the reality of your day-to-day.

How would tomorrow look different if you considered both what to do and how to be?
Meredith

to be 2

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