Red bicycle leans against tree, Saint- Sauveur, Quebec - Photo by David Innes

How to accomplish what really matters in spite of your to-do list

If you are anything like me, your to-do list is probably three pages long and it is like a many-headed monster that keeps growing new heads every time you slay one. So, what do you do about it? How do you make sure you’re spending your time on what really matters? How do you make sure you’re living your life on purpose?

Steven Covey taught a crucial concept in terms of the way we manage our time and priorities. Some of the items on our endless to-do list are urgent and must be done right away (like putting gas in the car when it’s empty, or scheduling and attending meetings) and some of the items on that to-do list are important (writing a book, spending time with loved ones) but not urgent. Worse yet, some of the most important needs in our lives don’t even hit our to-do lists. The important tasks often aren’t time-sensitive but we need to accomplish them in order for us to lead fulfilling lives and achieve our goals.

In the past, I have struggled with accomplishing the important tasks. I have gone days, even weeks, running around getting lots done but not moving forward. Yes, I’ve got the kids to preschool and school and made lunches and had three client meetings and planned a play-date and checked off many items on my to-do list but I haven’t done what really matters. You know why? Because I was a slave to the urgent, racing from one thing to the next, never getting to what was truly important.

Then I stopped, took stock of my life and started prioritizing what really matters. Now I get both the important and the urgent accomplished. I’ve written three books this year, started a blog, spent lots of time with my family, had some great vacations and also made sure the urgent tasks were accomplished.

What fills your tank and what helps you contribute to the world? That is what really matters. Those are the most important things in our lives and we have to make time for them. The urgent tasks always manage to get done –  because they are urgent. Where we need to focus is on the important work we have to do. The work of living good, fulfilling lives. I like to choose two things that I want to get done every day and they are the first things that I tackle – they are not the most urgent but they are important. Because if the important is left at the mercy of the urgent, it never gets done.

So how do we figure out what is really important? The question I like to ask myself is, if I never get this done, will it become a regret? Last week I wrote about how to live with fewer regrets (click here to read it) and this is one strategy you can use. I choose two things to do every day- one that fills my tank and one that fulfills my purpose.  You have to have a full tank in order to do everything else in your life. I encourage you to try choosing two things to do every day that are for yourself – one to fill your tank and one to contribute your gifts to the world. It’s simple and achievable – I chunk my goals down into daily tasks – writing a book is a big goal. Writing two pages today is manageable. Making my kids feel loved and connected is an enormous and lifelong goal – giving them a cuddle or making time to read three stories to them is an achievable daily task.
We all have busy lives and many urgent tasks to accomplish but we need to be intentional about creating a life that fulfills us, otherwise we find that days, weeks, months, even years, have passed and we haven’t lived our own lives, we have lived for others. It doesn’t take long to do the two important tasks that I choose every day – giving my kids a cuddle in the morning takes ten minutes, having a bath takes fifteen minutes, I wrote most of this blog post while riding the bus. When we focus on what’s important, we make it happen and trust me, we’ll always take care of what’s urgent.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and the mundane – yes, the bills have to get paid and the kids lunches need to get made (they are the bane of my existence – those lunches!) but just choose two things to do every day – one that fills your tank and one that fulfills your purpose and see how much more satisfying life can feel.

Think about what matters most and choose to intentionally create a life where you are prioritizing what is most important to you. Then, you will have fewer regrets. I would love to hear your ideas and what you have done in order to prioritize what matters and build an intentionally good life.

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