Sometimes I feel like I have way too much on my plate. To many “to do’s,” things I need to improve, projects I want to work on. It can feel like I’m crossing one thing off and adding two more. Things just seem to pile up. It feels like I’m in a fight with my to do list and all of the things on it just jumped me in some seedy back ally.
Recently I stopped going down that seedy back ally and started trying a new strategy for getting shit done. Now, instead of my to do list fighting me they’re fighting each other. I feel like a Roman emperor watching gladiators fight for my entertainment.
I can’t take credit for the fighting to do list idea. I first learned about it while interning with Precision Nutrition and was reminded of it months later by Nate Green and his Refocus course.
But regardless today’s article is all about how you can get yours to do the same.
STEP 1: THE NEED TO SET LIMITS
The f*ck are you talking about Justin? I thought this site was all about having no limits and living a limitless life.
Hey you, don’t curse at me! Just keep reading this article.
Living a limitless life isn’t about having zero limits. It’s about discovering what your personal limitations are by pushing yourself, getting out of your comfort zone, and experiencing new things.
Understanding your limits and even setting some for yourself is essential for success.
A quick cheat sheet to figuring out if you need certain limits in your life is this:
- Do you feel overwhelmed?
- Are you struggling with energy?
- Are you stressed?
- Do you feel like you have no time?
If you answered yes to any of those then examining where limits might be beneficial is a good idea.
But how do you do that?
FOCUS. REAL DEAL HOLYFIELD FOCUS
Now this is one area that I struggle with. I want to do so much and actually believe I can do everything at one time. What usually ends up happening is me getting stressed out, exhausted, and delivering piss poor results.
I’m changing this by evaluating my values and priorities and taking a look at which of the things I feel the need to get done will have the biggest impact on my life.
Does what I’m working on have an impact beyond this moment? Does it extend long-term?
If it does, I then put most (80/20) of my energy into that one activity. I delete, delegate, and do now (if it can be completed in 2 minutes or less) everything else.
When there’s something you really want to accomplish you most likely get really excited, highly motivated, and jump all-in. You go from couch to one hour in the gym 6 days a week, and fast food twice a day to chicken and broccoli at every meal.
Enthusiasm shortly dies down and you give up entirely. There is however a way to beat this all-in mentality.
The example he gave was of an email exchange he had with someone. He asked what was one thing they really wanted to accomplish but haven’t got started with.
The person said running. They wanted to start running 3 times per week. Ramit then asked why not just start by running once per week. This person responded by saying what for? Running once per week won’t do anything.
“The point is that most of us would rather dream about running 3 times per week than actually running once per week.”
If there is a larger goal that you’d like to accomplish make getting started easier on yourself by shrinking what you actually do.
- Want to run a marathon? Start with a walk around the block.
- Want to eat perfect Paleo? Start with breakfast first.
And if you’re still having a tough time getting started shrink what you need to do even more. Shrink it so much that it becomes nearly impossible for you not to get started.
STEP 2: CREATING A TO DO LIST THAT FIGHTS
For those of you that have ever filled out a March Madness bracket this is going to be pretty easy for you and if you haven’t, don’t worry a bit. I’m going to walk you right through the process.
Take out a piece of paper and write down everything you feel you need to do, want to do, or is simply on your mind. Below is an example of a recent bracket that I filled out for myself. On it you’ll see things like improve/get more sleep, write a new article for L365, create a new product for L365, get back into tumbling classes, start rock climbing again, record a video for Precision Nutrition.
Take everything you wrote down and review it real quick. What you’ll probably find is that you already want to cross off a few things that are not as important as you thought. After you cross off a few items from your list start putting them into your bracket.
Where you place them doesn’t really matter. So for example just because I put sleep in the number 1 spot does not mean it’s the most important thing for me.
Let the fighting begin. Looking at the first two items on your bracket which one would have the biggest or most beneficial impact on your life or the lives of others right now. Or you could just say fuck that – which one would you rather do right now. Don’t think about it more than 10 seconds. Pick a winner and move it to the next round.
Continue this process until you pair your bracket down to two things. This is it. The fight to end all fights. It will now be decided what you will be focusing on. Let the battle begin.
Once the fight is over and you are left with only one victor it’s time to start deciding what your next action step will be and to focus on the things that you can control. This is an important step because oftentimes the things we want to focus on are very broad.
- Get more sleep
- Lose 20 pounds
- Finish this project
- Go on a date
- Read more
SET UP YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Once the battle royal is complete you’re ready to get started. You and your task are at the weigh-in, staring each other down, ready to go mono a mono.
Here’s how you can guarantee a victory over your single to-do.
Set up your environment so that it helps you instead of hurts you.
Your environment is a very powerful influencer.
- Social environment — Family, friends, significant others, social outings, etc.
- Cultural environment — Cultural rules or expectations (certain foods you’re suppose to eat, ways you’re expected to behave, etc.)
- Intellectual environment — Ideas and beliefs that circulate around you, the intellectual stimulation (or otherwise) that we get, etc.
- Physical environment — Your home, workplace, places you frequent, etc.
You want to start making these things work for you instead of against you. For example, spend more time with people who support your goals, are practicing habits you want to develop, and participate in social experiences that emphasize the things you’re trying to achieve. All of these thing will help you to create a social environment that works for you instead of against you.
Action step – Using the four environments above what is one small step you can take to help create an environment that works for you?
FOCUS ON THE THINGS YOU ACTUALLY CONTROL
I’m the first to admit that I’m a control freak. It’s part of the reason I never got into the really cool drugs that some people do when they’re kids. I can’t stand the idea of being out of my element and not being able to control my body, thoughts, actions, and life.
When I first started dabbling in this health and fitness thing I tried my damnedest to control every aspect of that too.
- Counting carbs, protein, fat, and calories
- Tracking calories burned
- Recording exercise hours per week
- Isolating myself and never eating out with friends because I was afraid I couldn’t get food on my “diet.”
- Logging my weight everyday
I had a lot of really cool notebooks and excel spreadsheets for all of this.
On one hand this is sort of great. I’m tracking, gathering data to analyze, and holding myself accountable. However, I also became so obsessed with it that my personal life struggled, hobbies were non-existent, and my life fun factor was almost zero.
Because I had to control everything I ended up making myself feel terrible when I “lost” control. There were times when I didn’t follow my diet perfectly, I hate too many carbs, I binge ate on the weekends, I skipped a workout or couldn’t go for some reason.
I wasn’t in control and it pissed me off.
I blamed my lack of willpower, motivation, and discipline. My response was to be harder on myself. To make more rules and more control.
More control felt like I was taking positive action. But what I was really doing was making things more difficult for myself.
I learned a simple technique from my time with Precision Nutrition that I use in my coaching practice and with myself.
When you’re not getting results simply take a look at what you’re currently doing and ask yourself, “How’s that working for you?”
It’s a super simple way that gets you to step back and mindfully check in with yourself. It will get you to evaluate what you’re doing based on internal cues like your energy, ability to focus, and having fun versus external cues like strict rules that say you can do this and can’t do that, worrying about what others are thinking and doing, and meeting outcome based goals like what your weight reads on a scale.
THE NEXT ACTION STEP
Planning, preparing, assessing, measuring, and all that jazz is great but remember the goal is action. Not to collect underpants.
The idea is to assign a single step. Not four, not three, not two, just one single step. One task that you are confident you can implement immediately.
Ask yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how confident you are that you can implement this one step. If you’re not at least at a 9 then shrink the change you’re trying to make and simplify the action step until you are.
Print out a simple calendar and track how consistently you’re practicing that action step. Once you’ve built some consistency with it add another step.
If you’re struggling with consistency look for any logs that may get in your way.
For example, limiting factors to me improving my sleep might be:
- Lack of knowledge about how to improve sleep
- Poor time management skills during the day
- No clear plan
- The show Arrow being so awesome 🙂
- Dogs waking me up
- Girlfriend wanting to do grown-up stuff
- Work left undone
Sometimes these logs are small and sometimes they’re big. Regardless, if one or more of them is hurting your consistency try tackling them one at a time.
Question of the day: What’s on your “to-do list.” Have your thinks fight and share what comes out on top below.