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The Myth of “Doing it All”

Why productivity it NOT about doing it all, and how to start prioritizing so that you can get the important stuff done and let go of the rest.

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Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash
Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Often people assume that highly productive people are “doing it all”. Or they assume that if they can become just a little bit more efficient they will be able to “do it all” themselves.

But “doing it all” is a gigantic myth.

Here’s the thing: You (and me and everyone else) are going to die someday, with a big long list of things that you didn’t do. And that is OK. In fact, it’s preferable. It would be a super boring world if we got everything done, every day. We’d have nothing to strive for.

The fact that the world is full of opportunities, full of stuff we want to do, even stuff we “have” to do, is what makes life interesting.

Lots of people imagine that when they work with me that I’ll somehow magically ensure that their to-do list gets done, that everything gets crossed off. But that’s not really the point. (Yes, of course we work on making the to-do list shorter, through efficiency, better systems, delegation and outsourcing. But that doesn’t mean that everything will get done. My task list has at least a hundred ideas that I bet will never rise to the top in terms of priority.)

We live in the real world, where the to-dos keep coming at us, the opportunities keep showing up, and the onslaught of email never ends. Sometimes we cross something off the list only to add 3 more. And that’s OK too. That’s just life.

So, if you’re not going to “do it all” then what is the goal? Why are we trying to be more productive anyway?

The goal of, and the key to, productivity is the ability to prioritize in such a way that you know that what you did today was more important than what you didn’t do.

That’s it. Pretty simple, right? (Well, simple yes, but easy? Not necessarily.)

If I can say, every day, that what I did today was more important than what I didn’t do, that is success.

So, what you can you do TODAY to start ensuring that what YOU do today is more important than what you don’t get to?:

  • IDENTIFY YOUR TOP PRIORITY. AND DO IT FIRST.
    • Don’t let the day happen to you. Instead of starting your day with email and remaining in react-mode all day, identify the top priority of the day, that thing that must get done today otherwise tomorrow will not be your friend. And do that thing. Once you’re done, do the next most important thing. Apply this strategy at work, and at home.
  • SAY NO TO SOMETHING (EVEN IF IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE TO DO SO)
    • How often are you saying yes out of obligation? Because you “should”? Because you fear what might happen when you say no? This week, if you are asked to do something that just doesn’t align with your goals and how you want to spend your time, say no.
    • Here’s my guide on how to say no.
    • And if saying no feels really hard, remember that Warren Buffett says “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
  • STOP RELYING ON MEMORY TO KEEP TRACK OF WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATE
    • When we are using our brains to keep track of everything we need to do, not only is it stressful, but it’s also inefficient and ineffective.
    • Instead, write it down…all in one place. Whether you use a task app, a spreadsheet or a bullet journal, get it all down in one single trusted system so that you can stop relying on memory and start effectively prioritizing.
    • If it’s not all in one place, I guarantee it will be harder prioritize, things will fall through the cracks and you’ll find yourself spending more time than you want spinning your wheels, context switching and working on the “wrong” things.
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