I’m obsessed with to-do lists. My brain chemistry rewards me for crossing tasks off my list. Even shit I’ve already done. My brain doesn’t know the difference.
The calm of a neatly written list. The feel of my pilot pen gliding across the page. The sense of completion when a task is complete.
Yet, there’s one area where my to-do list fails me:
Writing for my business.
You see, my tasks were too broad and vague. Not to mention, unrealistic.
My to-do list looked like this:
write 2 blog posts/week
finish blog post
do facebook posts
Every Friday, I felt like a failure because I hadn’t accomplished what my to-do list told me to do. I’d use the weekend to launch into hyper-productivity or embrace complete avoidance. (Spoiler alert: neither option felt great.)
Eventually, I realized it’s not me – it’s my to-do list.
Giving myself general, overarching tasks when it came to producing content didn’t match my needs.
As a result:
- I got overwhelmed.
- I didn’t know where to start.
- I never set aside enough time to do it.
Basically, I felt like this:
So…my to-do list and I had a heart-to-heart.
I told her (yes, I imagine my to-do list as a librarian with a navy blue pencil skirt and a ballerina-style bun) as much as I appreciate her gusto and desire to keep me producing consistent content, it just wasn’t working for me.
She said, without her, I wouldn’t get anything done. My business would fall into ruins. Even worse…I’d forget important things like ordering groceries, brushing the cat, and shredding papers.
I told her that wasn’t true, because a) I’ll be reminded by the empty bag of Kettle chips on my nightstand b) it’s impossible to ignore the clusters of cat hair hugging the corners of our house and c) shredding papers is one of my true loves (perhaps even more so than crossing stuff off my to-do list).
We weren’t ready to entirely break it off, so we renegotiated our relationship.
I’m in charge now and changing a few things.
- I’m having realistic expectations for the amount of content I can produce. I’m honoring my deep-thinking and introverted nature that needs more time to come up with ideas, edit them, and get them out into the world.
- I’m putting writing tasks on my list that are measurable and doable so I don’t feel like I have to be constantly working.
- I’m measuring my productivity on my sustained focus and joy of writing, as opposed to the outcome.
This is what my to-do list looks like now:
write for one hour this week.
Yup, that’s it.
I schedule a time to write and then, when that time comes, I follow what feels RIGHT to write about. (There’s also a few other steps I’ll talk in a sec.)
Your to-do list is a tool to support you, not shame you.
To-do lists give us joy, but also give us pressure. Most recovering perfectionists or introvert-y types don’t thrive under pressure.
Especially when the task is something they are still learning how to do, such as copywriting for your website or online marketing with blogging or social media.
You feel like you’re ‘behind’ on your writing. You see colleagues having weekly blog posts and daily social media posts and feel like you can’t keep up.
This is where your to-do list really steps in and expects you to accomplish something.
You fixate on having something ‘done’ at the end of the day, as opposed to just allowing your ideas to take shape into what they were meant to be.
Here’s what you can do instead:
1) Block an hour off in your calendar in the coming week to just write.
Pause while you’re reading and go block out an hour on your calendar. Pick a time that you’ll feel relaxed, not rushed, and in an ideal setting for your creativity to come.
2) Designate a “home” for your ideas
Your ideas – when they strike – need a home. Some folks call this their idea collector. I call this my idea graveyard. It’s where my ideas go to die. Some ideas will gestate and grow into something, but most will never see the light of day.
Some will advise you to put your ideas all in one place. I am NOT the poster child for this approach. I have ideas written down in my planner, on scrap paper, in Trello, and random places on my phone.
Yes, sometimes ideas get lost. And that’s okay. They tend to find their way back to me if they are meant to be shared.
3) When your hour comes to write, look at your idea collector.
Trust your gut. Go with the idea that feels the most exciting to write about. When in doubt, choose the simplest idea. I’m dead serious. Keep it simple.
As a deep-thinking type, there is nothing simple about you or your ideas. As you write and embrace your voice, the idea will evolve into something rich, meaningful, and poignant.
4) Set your timer. Remove all distractions. WRITE.
Put your phone across the room. Get your kitten set up with catnip. Send your kids outside. Then, open up your word document or yellow note pad and just write. Write like you were talking to a friend. To a colleague. To a client. Get out that first draft. Don’t make it perfect.
5) At the end of the hour, schedule another hour. (And do a happy dance!)
Celebrate your hour of uninterrupted creation! Then, schedule your next hour on your calendar.
This 2nd hour will be devoted to taking the next step for this project. That might be editing, revision, or finding the right images for your social media post. If you get to the place where it’s ready to publish, awesome.
Don’t fixate on an outcome, just focus on the very next step you need to take to get your words out into the world.
6) Repeat Step 5 until your work is done and published.
7) Once your work is completed, start back at Step #1.
When you remove the pressure to produce, you might be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Consider what is feasible for you to produce given you’re a deep-thinking, deep-feeling person who also needs downtime to recover from your private practice work.
Use smaller, bite-sized tasks so you can celebrate the progress you’re making and gain momentum as time passes.
As a result, you’ll build more confidence in writing and bring more flow to your creative process.
And who doesn’t want that?