Anyone who knows me and knows me well could never – ever– accuse me of being lazy. My family, close friends and coach can attest to my laser (insane, perhaps?) focus when I’m working on a project – especially if I am in deadline mode. Case in point, the creation of two recent member-based experiences: Out of the Red, Back to Black & What the Hell Should I Do With My 401(k)?

One of my favorite tools for staying on track and moving through the various stages of my projects is a to-do list. Sometimes, it is handwritten in a vertical format; at others times, it’s in the form of a mindmap. For me, to-do lists serve as my locus of control, helping me to see the big-picture, manage my workflow, and my choices.

I suspect you use to-do lists as well. If so, go grab yours – whether it’s on paper or stored in a document on your computer.

In a minute I’m going to share a recent aha that has totally transformed my relationship with my to-do lists, and it just might transform your relationship with your to-do lists as well.

Power to the to-do list!

But first, let’s dig a bit deeper as to why to-do lists are so powerful; they are great for:

  • Breaking down large projects into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Bridging the gap between the big-picture end result and the day-to-day tasks/considerations to get to that end-point
  • Clarifying all the components of a project and helping you see more clearly how the components fit together
  • Managing and prioritizing multiple projects, deliverables, and commitments
  • Tracking progress and measuring productivity
  • Minimizing stress & maximizing control (most times!)

For these and other reasons, to-do lists are pretty darn powerful. And there’s no denying the ultimate marker of satisfaction and accomplishment when you place a check-mark next to a completed line item.

But what if your approach to to-do lists is all wrong? What if your to-do list has you focusing on the wrong thing?

I didn’t think this was possible until last week…

If you’ve ever worked with a coach, you know one of the best gifts they can give you is the gift of probing questions. My business coach, Stephanie Pollock, does this excellently! And during our most recent session, I had a profound aha! (Now might be a good time to grab your to-do list if you haven’t already.)

Sure, I’ve been busy; sure, I’ve accomplished some of my goals. But something was still missing…I was still stuck in some areas that in my opinion I thought I shouldn’t be. After all, I’m doing the work…damn it!

Strategic to-dos vs Tactical to-dos

Enter my aha moment, and where my story also becomes yours.

Yes, I am doing the work. But what I realized is that I’ve invested more time in doing the tactical work – such as designing a program or product. I wasn’t investing any where near the same amount of time in the strategic work – you know…the “harder” stuff that sets the foundation.

Where in your life, career, business, or even with (umm) your money are you making a similar mistake by focusing more on the tactical to-dos than the strategic ones?

For me and my business the strategic work looks like taking a step back, digging beneath the surface, and making sure I’m crystal clear about my message and who I best serve; making sure I really understand what my clients (err, that would be you) want (i.e., don’t create stuff in a vacuum); making sure I’m operating in my sweet spot, profitably; and making certain I’m not confusing “any action is better than none” with intentional, purpose-driven decisions and movement – to name a few.

The “problem” with strategic work and strategic to-dos is that you have to slow down! You have to be reflective. You have to contemplate. You have to face your fears and doubts. You have to step away from your comfort zone. You have to be bold. You have to have a breakdown moment. You have to make choices that initially present as “tough” (but really aren’t when you think about it.)

None of this is required for tactical to-dos. They, on the other hand, require less emotional effort and investment. And as a result, they are much easier to, well, do (!) and much easier to measure.

Getting Ready for 2013

We all get stuck from time to time. So getting stuck isn’t the issue; staying stuck is!

You know that to-do list I invited you to grab earlier? Take a look at it now because if you are feeling stuck in any way or area of your life it just might hold some clues for how to get unstuck.

As you review your to-do list, where do most of your items fall – are they S-TD or T-TD? (Yep, I even came up with a way of coding things…that’s the Type A-part of my personality revealing itself.) Share your discoveries in the comment section.

If you were lopsided like me with more tactical to-dos than strategic to-dos; if you are feeling a wee-bit stuck; if you want 2013 to be one of your more impactful years, here’s a suggestion: Take a week to focus on nothing but the items on your S-TD list. Or, if you realize you had nothing on your S-TD list, then spend time building it up. You will be amaaaazed at how this tweak will shift your energy – your focus – your productivity…and your results!

Power to the strategic to-do list…it’s the best way to ensure you are focusing on the right thing!

p.s. can you please take 60-seconds to complete this quick three-question survey? Thanks a ton!


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