Are you a slave to your to-do list? Why you need to take back control!

Are you a slave to your to-do list? Find out why being so diligent may mean you’re missing important ‘non-list’ tasks, and how you can take back control.

Celia Balmer from Swagger & Spice explains why being committed to your daily to-do list may be holding you back. And why learning new skills for future use is just as important as being productive in the moment.

Why we’re slaves to our to-do lists

We’re women and we work hard. The to-do list has been part of our daily narrative since we were reading Judy Blume.

And a full time business on top of a full time home life? That’s a whole lot of listing, juggling and tops to keep spinning.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that doing something, anything, that’s not on that list just feels, well, indulgent. Selfish even. So of course we hardly ever go off piste. We become bouncers to our own day – if it’s not on the list, it’s not coming in.

Why you need to go ‘off list’ sometimes

There are two problems with this. The first one is that life turns into one long list of chores, with a notable absence of spontaneity (last seen nicking minature shower gels off the cleaning trolley on route to the exit, aged 10).

And the second is that we start to feel that if we’re not making progress on the list, slashing and thrashing our way through it then we’re not being productive at all.

But don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you to rip up your list, light a scented candle and tell your clients / family / dog to piss off because you’re having a bit of ‘me’ time.

Instead, I’m just going to remind you it’s okay to colour outside the lines a little, even in your business.

If you don’t prioritise non-list tasks, they’ll never happen

That webinar you’ve been meaning to finish for ooh, a couple of months now – how about right now? Yes, even though you’ve got some client work burning a hole in your intray.

No, not while you eat lunch, not at home tonight when you’ve got one eye on the kids. Right now, in the middle of the most productive part of your work day. Learning is work.

That marketing book that’s been on your Amazon wish list – the one that’s more than £6? Buy it now, put your feet up on your desk and read the first couple of chapters. Sharpening the saw is just as important as servicing your clients.

If you relegate everything that’s not on your ‘work’ list to the margins of your day, they’ll never happen. Your day can only take so much stuffing. If you wait to buy the book as a reward for doing something brilliant, guess what, it’ll still be on your wish list when Wayne Rooney’s hair plugs are sweating in Qatar.

It can feel like you’re slacking off

And it’s not because you won’t do anything brilliant, but because you’ll never deem any of your achievements worthy. It’s pretty rare we pat ourselves on the back because:

  1. We’re women.
  2. We’re British (and terrified of being gauche).

It’s counter-intuitive I know. It feels like we’re slacking off – feet up, nose in a kindle while our inbox is submerged and our phone vibrates itself off the desk.

But learning new skills is as important as any other task

It can all wait. Because learning new skills, tightening up your game is as important as any other part of running your business. And furthermore, life shouldn’t be an eternal paddle through a list. Where’s the fun? The joy?

And at home? Let me just say this:

  • All work and no play makes Jack and Jill very bored with one another.
  • Your days will always be creaking under the weight of to-dos but straying from “the list” is not indulgent. A bit of spontaneity hurts no one and turning work time into workshops isn’t wasteful.
  • And actually maybe you should go rip up that list because freedom to do as you please? That’s the best ‘me time there is.

How to write lists that WORK

Not all to-do lists are equal. Here’s how to write lists that really work:

For more straight-talking business advice, visit Swagger & Spice, a creative business armoury for people who refuse to sink in the slurry of mediocrity.