Frustrated By Your Never Ending ‘Have’ To Do List?

Try this quick exercise that will help reduce your 'have' to dos and replace them with you 'want' to dos.

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IT is the bane of our existence. IT is the meaning of our days. IT is the measure of our abilities. IT is our excuse to work more. IT is social talk at a cocktail party and bragging rights at a meeting. IT is the backbone of our everyday living. 

IT is our To Do List.

Whether personal to dos or professional to dos, whether on your computer or written ‘old school’ by hand, we all possess a list of things that we have to get done every day. Every week. Every month. Every year.

Or do we?

When was the last time you stopped to look at what was on your list? Or what was taking up time on your calendar for the week?

Maybe now is a good time to take a few minutes to do just that. Look at what you have to do this week. Whether on a list, in your calendar, taped to the refrigerator door, on sticky pads littered around your office (I’m guilty of that one). Look hard at each item that you have listed as Have To Do this week.

Look hard. Get really clear on what you have going on. Reflect – don’t just glance.

Your To Do list. Your calendar. Your sticky pads. These are the items that dictate where you spend your valuable time. Your scarce energies. Your treasured memories.

Do you like what you see? Are you happy with your lists? Are your days filled with actions that contribute to your overall health/happiness/goals?

Chances are pretty good that, for some of the items on your list, you can answer a definitive “YES”. I am busily doing things that make me happy/healthy/feel accomplished and move me forward in my life the way I always dreamed.

But chances are pretty good that there are a lot of other items on your list that just don’t contribute to that dream life. These are the “I should do this”, “I don’t want to but I have to do this”, “I’m not sure why I’m doing this but someone asked me to” items.

Sure, there will always be some of the “I don’t want to but I have to dos” on our list, but honestly, the “shoulds” and the “not sure why’s” should never exist.


“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard

Intentional living does not happen by chance. Intentional living doesn’t happen on our downtime (if you even have any!). Intentional living is exactly that: Intentional.

So if we are constantly reacting to what’s happening around us, how intentional can we be about how we spend our time?

I would like to propose to you the idea of creating a Want To Do list to replace your Have To Do list.

Don’t worry, like everything, we’ll take this slowly. We’ll strive for small micro steps. We’ll bite off just enough that we can chew and swallow without choking or spitting.

But our end result will be a list that reflects your values. Your goals. Your desires. Your list will be your intentional living manifest for the future.

Want to take a stab at this? Great! You’ll need a piece of paper and a writing utensil to take the first steps. Oh, and your current to do list (in whatever form you keep) and your calendar for this week and next week.

Got them? Good! Here we go.

First Step: Draw the framework for your Intentional Living Matrix

This is very, very easy. Seriously, very, very easy.

On your piece of paper, with your writing utensil, I want you to draw a horizontal line down the middle of the page.

When you have that beautiful line centered nicely on your paper, draw a vertical line across the middle of the page.

You should now have 4 quadrants of equal size. You can feel free to pretty this up a little bit by drawing a bit of a frame around the outside of your matrix so you enclose the matrix in a big box, but this step is not necessary. You do you.

Perfect! And easy, right?

Second Step: Name each quadrant

Ok, here’s where we need to put our thoughtful caps on. I would like you to spend a few minutes to think about the 4 most important areas of your life to you.

Health, Career, Family, Community, Faith, Volunteering, Travel, Kids (more specific than family).

There are no right answers here, this is very personal to you and your life. Another way to think about this is to consider what are the 4 areas of your life where you WANT to be spending most of your time every day.

Don’t let those pesky ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, ‘need to dos’ take over! Yes, of course, they will exist, but right now, for just these few minutes in time, I want you to think only of your WANTS.

Where do you want to spend your time? With whom do you want to spend your time? On what do you want to spend your time?

Here are my 4 quadrants for 2020 (yes, this quadrant definition is a yearly exercise for me…because things can change..): Career, Health, Rj, Family/Friends.

Career – continuing the work that I do, professional development, and paying the bills
Health – walking 192 miles across England in August, aging well
Rj – ‘assistant’ for Richard Gayle Photography, love, exceptional relationship
Family/Friends – quality time anchored in love

Those are the 4 areas that I want to suck up my available time. Those are the areas that are important to me. Tasks related to each of those areas are what I want to see on my calendar each week.

What are yours? Take a moment to think about them and write them down now. Don’t add this to your To Do list for later – do it now. This is important.

Now, at the top of each quadrant, write out your focus area.

So, you should now possess a piece of paper, split into four equal quadrants, with a title at the top of each.

You with me? Good. Next….

Third Step: Look at your current situation through your quadrant lens

What does this mean? Take out your to do list for this week and next week and get your calendar(s) in front of you.

Now, for each item on your to do list, and each item in your calendar(s), write them in the quadrant box to which they belong.

So for me, I would put my client commitments , blogging time, and any items related to preparing for either of those activities under career.

In health, I would list my committed work out times, goals related to my diet (ie: one vegetarian dinner/week), and stretching goals (3X/week 20 minutes of rolling and stretching).

Got it? Oh, and if you have any items on your list or in your calendar(s) that don’t fit into any of your quadrants, note them on a separate piece of paper. These are important!!! I’m sure you may be figuring out why by now.

Note: I have done this Intentional Life Matrix for many years now, so my list may look a bit more want oriented than yours. That’s part of the process….keep going.

Do you have your quadrants filled in? Do you notice anything of interest?

Is one quadrant more full than others? Are there things that don’t fit in any quadrant? Are you wondering why some of your to dos are actually even on your list? Do some items feel good to you while others just feel like tasks? Maybe you notice that you are feeling really good about how you are spending your time!

There is no wrong or right here – just observation.

Last Step: Use Your Quadrants to Plan Your Weeks

Normally, when I’m doing this with a group, we have a few more steps before we get here. But, in lieu of time and writing space, we’re going to skip to this step and end here for today.

Your quadrants are your WANTS. These are where you want to spend your time. These are where you want to spend quality time. These are the buckets that define your Intentional Life, not your Have To Do Life.

At the beginning of your new week (or whenever you do your planning), I want you to ensure that in each quadrant there is at least one ‘to do’ that moves you toward your goals/desired state for each quadrant.

Over time, I’d like you to strive to make the number of to do items in each quadrant to be more balanced. How do you do this? Well, that’s a whole other blog, but here’s a hint: stop doing things on your list that are not propelling you forward in one quadrant so you have time to do something that is propelling you forward in another quadrant.

Here’s an example: Too much ‘to do’ in your work/career quadrant and not enough in your family quadrant? Find one item that you can delegate, one call you don’t really need to attend, one meeting you can skip or 10 emails that really don’t need a response. Don’t do those things.

And now you can add dinner with the family!

Eventually, over time, with dedication, I can promise you – your ‘have’ to do list will become your ‘want’ to do list.

And doing what you want to do is called Intentional Living my friends.

*** As noted above, this is a very shortened version of a much larger exercise that I teach to groups/clients. If you are interested in doing the more in-depth process, you can find it outlined in my book Live More, Work Better: A Practical Guid to a Balanced Life. With worksheets and all!

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