It's About Time: What Can To-Do Lists Do for You?

todo2-mediumWe have long been encouraged to use to-do lists in order to help us organize our lives, be accountable and more productive. Some people swear by them, some swear at them.

But to-do lists are more than just a simple listing of plans. To-do lists are used by successful people to manage their time, to ensure that important tasks are done and to help them reach their goals.

Modern to-do lists have taken many forms.

There are lists of things to do before you die, places to go before you die. There are guides to making to-do lists and computer tools such as Tadalist to allow you to make your list online.

I’m one of those who swears by to-do lists. I tend to put more on a list that any human can accomplish in a day, however. One of my frequent errors is putting long-term or a big task on a daily to-do list. For example, one day my to-do list read

1. Email Ryan, K, and Yvonne
2. Send class count to JDW
3. Check FC email for any email from online
4. Write more powerful stories
5. Check on my new domains at GoDaddy to see if they’re live
6. Cancel hosting account with former host
7. Order gifts for grandkids from online catalogs
8. Write blog posts for GBBW and CYLH
9. Finish prepping tax papers
10. Plan Toastmaster talk for next week
11. Wash and hang fine washables
12. Start box for giveaway clothes and other items
13. Change linen in MB
14. Read and respond to important email

My list is not prioritized nor grouped by categories. A quick scan down my list and you’ll notice that there’s one item that is not likely to be finished in one day.

Task#4 is an admirable task, but one that I’ll be polishing and refining for longer than just a day. Maybe it should be on a reminder list. Or maybe it should be a long-term goal with small steps that will get it accomplished. For sure it seems out of place on a daily to-do list.

For tasks that stay on my to-do list for an extended period of time, never getting accomplished, I take them off. They’ll resurface in my mind and life if they need to get done. I’m always torn about how much detail to put on my list.

Should I list stopping to make lunch, putting clothes in the washing machine? Should I prioritize my list, give myself deadlines? Regardless of how the list is organized, the best part is crossing things off as you finish them. It’s amazing how good I feel as I cross or check off each item.

How about you? Do you use to-do lists? Do they keep you on track or distract you? Do you overestimate how much you can do in a day? Do you schedule fun and happiness in your list?

Five Ways to Increase Your Happiness and Success

adaToday I received an newsletter from Doug Stevenson of Story Theater International Inc. in which he spells out lessons he learned as an actor that helped him succeed in business. As I was absorbing his key points, it occurred to me that his lessons could apply to life happiness as well.

Based on some of the points shared by Doug I created this list of five ways to increase your life happiness and success.

1. Go after what you want often

Actors who want to work must audition frequently. They actively look for roles and try out countless times facing rejection before landing roles.

Likewise, you have you must try out many ways to reach your goals. If returning to school is your goal, for example, you must get up the courage to seek the right school, apply and once accepted, begin taking classes that offer challenges and much work over perhaps a number of years.

If you tell me that you want to own a restaurant one day, I expect to see you devoting a lot of your time to working in a restaurant, taking classes in culinary skills, restaurant management and networking with other restaurant owners.

If one path to your goal is blocked or inaccessible, continually look for other avenues to your success.

2. Avoid sabotaging your own success.

One of my friends is very skilled at playing the piano and wants to one day play with a band. But she keeps thinking of reasons a career in music might not work out for her. Her fears lead to lack of confidence which leads to hesitance to go after gigs that could move her toward her goal.

Her negative self-talk builds up to a crescendo that sabotages her own success before anyone else gets the chance.

Doug tells in his newsletter about a time when he thought he was wrong for a role. He had to psych himself up for the audition and trust his agent. As it turns out, the director was casting against type. So Doug was right, he wasn’t the type for the role, but he was wrong in assuming that they were looking for the typical.

As you keep exploring your options you will eventually move closer to your success. Are you talking yourself out of going for your goals? Are you rejecting yourself before anyone else has the chance?

3. Respect your role

In every cast, group, family and company there will be many roles. Each role is vital to making the whole work.

When I was writing my book, Color Your Life Happy, I would sometimes to begin to feel intimidated when I looked at all the books on happiness filling the shelves at the bookstore.

“What could my book possibly add to the field?” I lamented to my coach.

He would then remind me that no matter how many books are on the market, no one could tell my message but me. And, somewhere in the world someone was waiting to hear what I had to say about creating happiness, abundance and inner joy. Thus, there even though there are thousands of books, my book had its role and its place.

Regardless of your position in a company you play an important role. Every part in the support system helps to hold up the whole structure.

Recognize that your role, small or big, contributes to the success of the whole. Then give your all to that role. Even if you are in a job that you consider a steppingstone to your dream job, do your best work with enthusiasm and integrity. You are building the foundation for your success.

4. Build your relationships with others in the drama called Your Life.

Be careful not to view the people you pass on your path to success as collateral damage. Build relationships with the coworkers and others you meet. Some will be in your life for a short time, never to be seen again.

Others will become colleagues, partners or leads in other projects and endeavors.

You won’t necessarily be drawn into close friendships with everyone you meet, but be kind and cooperate when working together.

5. Show up for the performance.

Woody Allen said “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Show up in your life by actively going after your goals, attending events that interest you and getting engaged with activities that inspire and encourage you.

If you have an idea, try it out. If it fails or doesn’t work out, try something else.

Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was too stupid to learn anything. He was fired from his first two jobs for being non-productive. As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.

When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Think of the sun as the spotlights on your stage of life awaiting your arrival each morning. You can’t be sure how you will be received by the world, but you can ensure your own happiness and success by showing up and giving your best performance.

The Daffodil Principle

The private Daffodil Garden planted by Gene Bauer, Running Springs, CA

The private Daffodil Garden planted by Gene Bauer, Running Springs, CA

In her newsletter today, Linda Miller of ZeroPointRevolution shared the following story. Rather than summarize it, I thought it would be more powerful for you to read the full version for yourself.

The Daffodil Principle
by Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, “Mother, you must come and see the daffodils before they are over.” I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead. Going and coming took most of a day–and I honestly did not have a free day until the following week.

“I will come next Tuesday, ” I promised, a little reluctantly, on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and so I drove the length of Route 91, continued on I-215, and finally turned onto Route 18 and began to drive up the mountain highway. The tops of the mountains were sheathed in clouds, and I had gone only a few miles when the road was completely covered with a wet, gray blanket of fog. I slowed to a crawl, my heart pounding. The road becomes narrow and winding toward the top of the mountain. As I executed the hazardous turns at a snail’s pace, I was praying to reach the turnoff at Blue Jay that would signify I had arrived. When I finally walked into Carolyn’s house and hugged and greeted my grandchildren I said, “Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in the clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these darling children that I want to see bad enough to drive another inch!”

My daughter smiled calmly,” We drive in this all the time, Mother.”

“Well, you won’t get me back on the road until it clears–and then I’m heading for home!” I assured her.

“I was hoping you’d take me over to the garage to pick up my car. The mechanic just called, and they’ve finished repairing the engine,” she answered.

“How far will we have to drive?” I asked cautiously.

“Just a few blocks,” Carolyn said cheerfully.

So we buckled up the children and went out to my car. “I’ll drive,” Carolyn offered. “I’m used to this.” We got into the car, and she began driving.

In a few minutes I was aware that we were back on the Rim-of-the-World Road heading over the top of the mountain. “Where are we going?” I exclaimed, distressed to be back on the mountain road in the fog. “This isn’t the way to the garage!”

“We’re going to my garage the long way,” Carolyn smiled, “by way of the daffodils.”

“Carolyn,” I said sternly, trying to sound as if I was still the mother and in charge of the situation, “please turn around. There is nothing in the world that I want to see enough to drive on this road in this weather.”

“It’s all right, Mother,” She replied with a knowing grin. “I know what I’m doing. I promise, you will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience.”

And so my sweet, darling daughter who had never given me a minute of difficulty in her whole life was suddenly in charge — and she was kidnapping me! I couldn’t believe it. Like it or not, I was on the way to see some ridiculous daffodils — driving through the thick, gray silence of the mist-wrapped mountaintop at what I thought was risk to life and limb.

I muttered all the way. After about twenty minutes we turned onto a small gravel road that branched down into an oak-filled hollow on the side of the mountain. The Fog had lifted a little, but the sky was lowering, gray and heavy with clouds.

We parked in a small parking lot adjoining a little stone church. From our vantage point at the top of the mountain we could see beyond us, in the mist, the crests of the San Bernardino range like the dark, humped backs of a herd of elephants. Far below us the fog-shrouded valleys, hills, and flatlands stretched away to the desert.

On the far side of the church I saw a pine-needle-covered path, with towering evergreens and manzanita bushes and an inconspicuous, lettered sign “Daffodil Garden.”

We each took a child’s hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path as it wound through the trees. The mountain sloped away from the side of the path in irregular dips, folds, and valleys, like a deeply creased skirt.

Live oaks, mountain laurel, shrubs, and bushes clustered in the folds, and in the gray, drizzling air, the green foliage looked dark and monochromatic. I shivered.

Then we turned a corner of the path, and I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight, unexpectedly and completely splendid. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes where it had run into every crevice and over every rise. Even in the mist-filled air, the mountainside was radiant, clothed in massive drifts and waterfalls of daffodils. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron, and butter yellow.

Each different-colored variety (I learned later that there were more than thirty-five varieties of daffodils in the vast display) was planted as a group so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue.

In the center of this incredible and dazzling display of gold, a great cascade of purple grape hyacinth flowed down like a waterfall of blossoms framed in its own rock-lined basin, weaving through the brilliant daffodils.

A charming path wound throughout the garden. There were several resting stations, paved with stone and furnished with Victorian wooden benches and great tubs of coral and carmine tulips. As though this were not magnificence enough, Mother Nature had to add her own grace note — above the daffodils, a bevy of western bluebirds flitted and darted, flashing their brilliance. These charming little birds are the color of sapphires with breasts of magenta red. As they dance in the air, their colors are truly like jewels above the blowing, glowing daffodils. The effect was spectacular.

It did not matter that the sun was not shining. The brilliance of the daffodils was like the glow of the brightest sunlit day. Words, wonderful as they are, simply cannot describe the incredible beauty of that flower-bedecked mountain top.

Five acres of flowers! (This too I discovered later when some of my questions were answered.) “But who has done this?” I asked Carolyn. I was overflowing with gratitude that she brought me — even against my will. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Who?” I asked again, almost speechless with wonder, “And how, and why, and when?”

“It’s just one woman,” Carolyn answered. “She lives on the property. That’s her home.” Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house that looked small and modest in the midst of all that glory.

We walked up to the house, my mind buzzing with questions. On the patio we saw a poster. ” Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking” was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. “50,000 bulbs,” it read. The second answer was, “One at a time, by one woman, two hands, two feet, and very little brain.” The third answer was, “Began in 1958.”

There it was. The Daffodil Principle.

For me that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than thirty-five years before, had begun — one bulb at a time — to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountain top. One bulb at a time.

There was no other way to do it. One bulb at a time. No shortcuts — simply loving the slow process of planting. Loving the work as it unfolded.

Loving an achievement that grew so slowly and that bloomed for only three weeks of each year. Still, just planting one bulb at a time, year after year, had changed the world.

This unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. She had created something of ineffable magnificence, beauty, and inspiration.

The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principle of celebration: learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time — often just one baby-step at a time — learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time.

When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world.

“Carolyn,” I said that morning on the top of the mountain as we left the haven of daffodils, our minds and hearts still bathed and bemused by the splendors we had seen, “it’s as though that remarkable woman has needle-pointed the earth! Decorated it. Just think of it, she planted every single bulb for more than thirty years. One bulb at a time! And that’s the only way this garden could be created. Every individual bulb had to be planted. There was no way of short-circuiting that process. Five acres of blooms. That magnificent cascade of hyacinth!

All, all, just one bulb at a time.”

The thought of it filled my mind. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the implications of what I had seen. “It makes me sad in a way,” I admitted to Carolyn. “What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five years ago and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’ through all those years. Just think what I might have been able to achieve!” My wise daughter put the car into gear and summed up the message of the day in her direct way. “Start tomorrow,” she said with the same knowing smile she had worn for most of the morning. Oh, profound wisdom!

It is pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson a celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, “How can I put this to use tomorrow?”

Tool for Happiness: Give Up the Quest

Professor Srikumar Rao, creator of popular graduate course Creativity and Personal Mastery, says that anything you think you can get to make you happy is something you also can “unget.” His view is that happiness is hard-wired into us and therefore there is nothing we need to get, do or be to be happy.

Listen to what he has to say. Then share your reactions.

Get a Buddy or Coach for Motivation and Productivity

Photo by crossfitpeachtree on flickr

Photo by crossfitpeachtree on flickr

Even the most industrious of us can benefit from an occasional push to get or keep us going.

My efforts to get out and walk for exercise, for example, were sporadic until I joined a neighbor who walks her dog. We both were happy to join forces because it’s just easier to show up when someone else is expecting you. Even though we have had days when one or the other has to cancel because of our schedules or vacations,  we have rolled with the changes and consider our walk as a priority.

One of my writing goals was to create quality articles frequently and in a more timely manner. When I heard of Jeff Herring’s 100 Articles in 100 Days Challenge I jumped on board and began to churn out articles faster using his videos, ideas and the camraderie of the other participants. There were no prizes  other than the gratification and sharpened skills at the finish line in July 2009.

In the early stages of writing my book, Color Your Life Happy, I worked with a motivational coach who gave me ideas and encouragement, and was my accountability partner. As I moved closer to the later phases I hired a publishing coach who gave me more specific tips, guidance, inspiration and again, was my accountability partner.

Why does coaching help?

Look at the top achievers in the world, such as Tiger Woods and Tony Robbins and others in sports and entertainment. Even though they live their passion and enjoy dream lives, they have coaches. As a matter of fact, I didn’t make as much progress in my own coaching and writing career until I hired a coach.

Is coaching for you?

Are you working toward a goal and pursuing your passion? Do you sense that you could use an accountability partner, a sounding board and a gentle guide. I urge you to consider getting a coach or buddy to help you stay motivated and increase your productivity.

I have a few coaching slots available in my practice. I’d be delighted to help you set priorities, make action plans and achieve the success you deserve. Get a complimentary session, then decide. Learn more here.