Getting clear on what matters most and cutting away the rest.

Why do our to-do lists grow faster than we can check things off? The misconception is that we tend to treat ourselves as machines. We think that we should complete a massive amount of tasks at a frantic speed. In reality, we work the most creative, when we have only a few things to do and when we are clear about the vision as well as the very next step.

Where complexity comes from…

I am sure that you know this feeling when things in your place just get more and more. We keep things that we have a clear feeling that we don’t need them. Here are three reasons, why we act against our clear intuition:

  • Things have been useful in the past.
  • We imagine how things might be useful in the future.
  • Somebody gave it to us and they will be hurt, if we get rid of it.

By keeping things that we obviously don’t want and need, we add complexity to our lives. We do exactly the same with our to-do list:

  • It was important to me in the past, so it should be important now.
  • This task might be useful in the future.
  • Somebody else put it on my to-do list, I cannot disappoint the person.

So what is the way to get clear on what matters most and get rid of the rest? Brendon Burchard suggests to:

  1. Get rid of the non-essentials.
  2. Clarify the payoffs and why.
  3. Calendar it out.

In the following I describe the process Brendon Burchard suggests and add a few of my own thoughts.

Get Rid Of The Non-Essentials

The first step is to get a rough understanding of what is on your plate and to immediately start cutting away:

  1. Get some post-it notes. Write down all the major professional and private projects that you are working on or want to work on.
  2. Which interests do the projects serve? Rearrange the post-its to make connections and overlap visible. This helps to reduce complexity.
  3. Now for each project ask: “What if I cut that project out?” Throw out everything that obviously doesn’t matter. Go with your gut feeling.

Do the same for your task list. Ask: “What if I cut that task out?” You can also do this for habits. For every habit that you do, ask: “What if I cut that habit out?”

Clarifying the Payoffs

We need to get clear about the payoff of everything we do. If we don’t get a significant payoff from what we do, then why do it? Instead we could do something else which gives us a high payoff. For every project answer the questions:

  1. What are you hoping to get from your work? What is the payoff? If it doesn’t give you any payoff or the payoff is very low, cut it out.
  2. When will you get the payoff? If the payoff is too far in the future, consider pushing it back and doing something else now that will give you a payoff sooner.
  3. What is the threat of this project to the payoffs of other things? It is important to know, which influence a certain project will have on your life in order to judge if you really want to do it now.

Clarify Intrinsic Meaning

By now you are already a lot clearer. Rating intrinsic meaning helps to weed out all the things that you will never commit to. We are emotional beings and there is a lot of wisdom and power in our intuition. This is why we judge this from a gut level.

Brendon Burchard recommends picking two competing projects and rating them on 4 dimensions. Give up to 5 points on each dimension.

  1. BE. This project is more me.
  2. CONNECT. This project is good for my relationships. It brings me close to people.
  3. CREATE. Creating/ Giving to the world.
  4. GROW. This project would genuinely stretch me. Is it outside of my current ability. It will bring me struggle and force me to develop new competencies.

Which project has a higher sum? This one gives more intrinsic meaning and it will feel right. If a project scores low on this rating, remove it, it would just drain your energy. If some project has little payoff, but high intrinsic meaning, you should still consider doing it, because it will energize you.

Another model of using our intuition in guiding us on what to do more and less of is the ABC-Modell by Dan Sullivan. Dan Sullivan argues that our emotions are a highly intelligent system in guiding us what to do. He says that there are only 3 kinds of tasks:

  • A: Irritating. Tasks which are irritating for us.
  • B: Okay. Tasks which are okay for us.
  • C: Fascinating & Motivating. Tasks which endlessly fascinate and motivate us.

The goal is to continuously move to spending more and more time with fascinating and motivating tasks. This will energize you and you will feel happy. A fulfilling life is not doing nothing. A fulfilling life is doing what is fascinating and motivating to us. What exactly these tasks are, will change as we grow.

Decide when you are going to do which project.

Now that you have removed the non-essentials, clarified the payoffs, and identified your intrinsic why, it all comes down to arranging it on the calendar. Here is a simple way to do it. Just draw 12 boxes on a sheet of paper.

There are 12 boxes, one box for each of the upcoming 12 months. Take the projects that you want to do this year. Which project goes into which month? How you can move the projects around in a better way according to where you are in life and based on the payoffs of the projects? At the beginning of each month look at the upcoming month and ask: What will I move to a different month?

Continuous Review Process

Getting clear on what is most essential and cutting away the rest is a continuous process. Our life, our surroundings and our priorities are continuously changing. New opportunities show up. This why we need regular reviews. Always evaluate new opportunities and put them into the context of what you already decided. Ask: “How does it impact my pre-existing plan?”

What is your process for getting clear on what matters most?

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