If the answer is “no,” drop it from your list. Most productivity advice focuses on managing your energy to tackle the tough stuff. However, some things we make “tough” when they don’t need to be. Sure there are some activities in life that you must do—if you don’t get your tax documents in on time, bad things could happen. But there are many, many other parts of your life where you have a great deal more control than you think.
Instead of continually trying to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do, let them go. Without the emotional weight and mental clutter of keeping things on your agenda that don’t absolutely need to be there, you’re much freer to rapidly move forward on what you really do want and need to get done.
As your time coach for the day, I’m giving you full permission to stop telling yourself that you need more discipline. Start getting honest about what brings you joy and what is aligned with your priorities. Maybe you won’t totally reorganize your photos folder. Or redo your website. Instead of making your to-do list an exercise in guilt, waving the white flag can free up mental energy for the stuff you love to do, the stuff that really matters, and the stuff that moves your career forward.
This, of course, isn’t a pass to sit on the couch all day. But it is a call to wake up and consider critically analyzing your tasks and asking: Does this make me happy? Do I need to do this?
Here are some key areas where you may want to do some spring cleaning:
Have you had projects sitting on your list for months or even years? If so, and you have the option to drop them, consider consciously choosing to take them off the to-do list, undone. If it must be done and someone else on your team could do it, delegate.
If it is a client project that you just can’t get yourself to do, consider going back to the client and recommending they find someone else. Sure that will hurt your pride a bit, but it’s better to be open and honest to allow them to find someone who is a better fit than to simply drag out the time of feeling badly about not doing something that you really, really don’t want to do.
It’s true that everyone has an off day now and again. But if you have a constant aversion to interacting with someone, it may be time for a change of personnel or staff. If you’re a business owner, you can decide not to take on more projects for a client if they’re not a good fit for you and for your team. Your time is precious and should be spent with clients you love to work with. This reduces the stress around serving them and opens up space for clients that fit with your culture. If you have people working for you who act like you’re working for them, you may want to consider getting different help. You should not have to feel badly for asking someone to do their job or for holding them accountable to commitments. You also don’t want yourself in a situation where you avoid communicating with them. If you’re not the business owner, you may want to consider looking for a new job or role. Working in an environment where you feel safe and have good rapport with those around you is important.
Ever suddenly realize something you used to do for pleasure now feels more like an obligation? Sometimes you join a group and really resonate with the group members at the beginning, but then later find that you no longer enjoy participating in events. Or other times you never really like certain functions but keep going just because you think that you should. If you notice that you arrive late, leave early, look for any reason to skip, or resent the time you spend somewhere, it may be time to call it quits. Just because a particular group or association worked well for you at one time, doesn’t mean you have to keep going when you don’t want to anymore.
As a creative, there’s a never-ending stream of ideas that you come up with or others recommend for you. Whether it’s reading a book, doing a training, starting to blog, or developing a side project, there’s never a lack of things that you could do. However, just because you could do something, doesn’t mean that you should, and it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s something you have to do.
If you notice yourself avoiding a to-do item or simply making no progress, let it go. I’ve had books sit on my shelves for years, and it was unlikely that I would ever read them. Eventually, I donated them—without any guilt. When I’m really motivated to read a book, I make it a priority. When I’m not, I don’t. When I admit that something isn’t a priority for me to read or do and let it go, I literally feel lighter.
I’m a huge advocate of habits so I don’t recommend that you drop them carte blanche. However, I do recommend that you let go of the ones that don’t work for you. If you can’t stand working out in the morning, stop trying to set your alarm for 5 a.m. and then hitting snooze for an hour. In the case of habits, step back and think about the end goal of each task. For example, with the morning work out, you’ll feel much better if you simply set your alarm for 6 a.m. and work out after work. The result is the same: you get exercise, but the guilt is far less.
If you don’t like journaling, stop it. Doodle instead or do whatever else helps you clear your mind. If sitting meditating isn’t your thing, try to go on a walk instead. Yes, you need habits. Yes, you need to get things done and have self-care, but no, everything shouldn’t be a constant struggle.
This spring, stop doing what you don’t want to do so you can start doing what’s right for you.
How about you?
What have been the results when you stopped forcing yourself to do excess things that you didn’t want to do?