Leaps Instead of Lists

It’s easy to fill the hours (or years) with busywork. I can squash an entire day in a rush of activity and get absolutely nothing done toward my actual goals. Some of us (myself at least) certainly have a bend toward deceptive self-sabotage.

It’s awfully disappointing that even when I successfully fight the temptation to while away the day on the front porch with a glass of sangria and a dicey piece of fiction, I am still prone to toiling away the day in activity that produces the same end result but with less enjoyment and guilt.

Doing More by Doing Less

This isn’t a new concept by any means. It’s a phenomena that has fascinated me for years. When I got my first job after college, I always finished early. I felt guilty leaving work early, but I was done. I would do online research or clean up someone else’s clutter that had been distracting me to pass the remaining time so that no one would see me leave early and mistake me for a lazy pants.

When I joined an executive team and amassed an overwhelming number of direct reports, I was amazed at the wide range of efficacy with which my colleagues and I would pass the now very limited time. Some of us remained task oriented, crossing off to-do lists in such a hurried fashion that there was never time to reflect on priorities or impact (here’s a shocker: that was me). We got stuff done, but at what cost?

Now as a solopreneur working from home with kids, I have again encountered a renewed time/task management challenge. I have repeatedly attempted to hack my daily schedule to fit in all of the desired pieces. Channel your inner type-A and imagine the check-off list: 1-hour of exercise, 1-hour of reading, 2 hours of writing, reach out to two contacts, 30-minutes play with kids, eat hot breakfast and dinner as a family, ┬ádrop off and pick up older child from school, clean 1 room, 1 load of laundry, 30-minutes spousal bonding…

How can this system not work?

Unfortunately for me, my red personality is not a strength when it comes to getting something meaningful done. This past year has been a difficult experiment in fighting the urge to list and instead go with the flow.

While projects still require a structure of milestones that must be accomplished in order to reach the objective, most crazy goals seem to require crazy leaps rather than logical, ordered baby steps.

So when the day presents an opportunity to network with incredibly talented people or my kids start to raise the sheet for the roof of a fort, I have to toss out the color-coded to-do list (and my type-A guilt) and take advantage of the opportunity to make a leap in that direction. Every once in awhile, that leap is in the direction of the front porch and that glass of sangria.

Help me out: Those of you who are tackling some pretty amazing personal goals and rely on yourself to get the job done, how do you personally move forward without losing all sense of balance? Certainly I have successfully produced miracles while locked in an office with coffee for an extended period of time, but the impact on my relationships and waistline aren’t desirable.

  1. I have recently begun to recognize the significant role of faith in greatness. I admire your leaps and am struck with how few people have that sense of surety. One of those curious characteristics that seems to run constant for leaders who have the courage to blaze a new trail toward their goals. The question then is: can you nurture greater faith in those who prefer to stay and complain in their comfort zone or is it one of the personality drivers that’s pretty firmly set?

  2. I’ve found your leap metaphor to be apt, when looking back on the big changes that I really wanted to make. When I moved out to California, with no job and no prospects, what got the thing done was a leap of faith and faith in the leap, so to speak…not any kind of organized approach. I just went for it and had faith it was going to be fine.

    We did the same thing four years ago when we moved to Arizona. No job, just a room to rent with some construction workers and one of their girlfriends, and the first year of my wife’s grad school with no guaranteed funding. Still, we weren’t going to let pesky things like uncertainty or lack of financial security stop us from going after my wife’s degree. As always, things worked out fine. Better than fine.

    I’m off track re: the time management subject, I realize. But someone smart recommended to me to write down just three things that matter, and try to accomplish those today. Once you cross off the third one, you can take the rest of the day “off” knowing you truly did more today than you normally would.

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