If you’re looking to defeat your to-do list once and for all, here’s an approach that actually works.
I’m a neurotic overachiever. If you’ve been reading this website for any length of time, this will not come as news to you. I read all the advice about self-care and setting boundaries and having a routine, and then I stay up until 2am to write “just one more blog post.” My never-ending to-do list has now grown eight legs and overwhelms and threatens my sanity every moment of every day.
Plus, I’m a work-at-home parent. And that’s a straight road to workaholic hell right there.
I know the logic of all the advice and every productivity tip, as I’m sure do you. You can’t do it all. You shouldn’t skimp on sleep. You need to take regular breaks or you’ll burn out. But then your kid goes to bed at 7pm and your husband wants to watch the Wimbledon finals and you think, well, good, I’m going to read a book. Two pages in, you go, sod it, I’ll just finish writing that essay I started yesterday instead.
If there was a productivity system that could help me be my overachieving self but still allow me a bit of a break, that would be ideal, but until now, I haven’t quite found the right answer.
Last month, however, I came across a productivity tip from Shanda Sumpter of Heartcore Women and it’s changed the way I tackle my to-do list entirely.
Shanda encourages readers to have a single focus every single month and have one major target in mind that you want to hit. If you have only one major focus every month, then after the course of the year, you’ll have hit 12 major goals.
This, if you think about it, is a perfect productivity tip for writers and entrepreneurs who pick and choose projects. When I came across this tip, I was in the throes of setting up a business, working on three different books, and still finishing up the last of my journalism work, not to mention a few other creative ventures I’m dipping my toes into.
It was exhausting, but no matter how much I did, it was never enough. It could never be enough because there was always another book, another assignment, another big hairy project waiting to be tackled.
So I took Shanda’s advice and made my business the focus for July. This month, as we celebrate the first anniversary of that business (woo!), it feels a bit more settled and I can start another new project. So in August, I’m diving into journalism and content marketing again, and in September, I’m writing a book.
If you’re looking to defeat your to-do list once and for all, here are some benefits of this approach that I’m discovering already:
- I’m more focused because I have a very specific target and a very specific goal to be met by the end of the month.
- I’m happier and feeling more accomplished because of that specific target (which I’ve met). Rather than focusing on all that still needs to be done, I’m able to focus on what I did get done.
- Projects that kept being pushed back, like that novel, now have months of their own assigned to them. Maybe I still won’t get to them, but I probably won’t beat myself up about it as much.
- It keeps me from feeling scattered and all over the place, which means I’m bringing my best to the project at hand.
- It’s a great incentive to get work finished. As a writer and now as an entrepreneur, this is the most important thing. If you don’t finish it, you can’t ship it.
- It allows me to stop. My problem is that when there’s too much on my to-do list, I just can’t find a way to not do more. This gives me the framework to map out my month and when I finish the work, to just call it a day.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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