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How to Live a Meaningful Life in Spite of Your To-Do List

First published on Medium
Nov 6, 2017 · 4 min read

If you are anything like me, your to-do list is probably three pages long and it is like a many-headed monster that keeps growing new heads every time you slay one. So, what do you do about it? How does one live a life with meaning when the to-do list is full of banal things like: buy socks for kids, send out birthday party invitations, make dentist appointments for all of us, register kids for soccer, book client lunches, edit powerpoint, follow up on conference presentation. How do you make sure you’re spending your time on what really matters? How do you make sure you’re living your life on purpose?

Some of the items on our endless to-do list are urgent and must be done right away (like putting gas in the car when it’s empty, or scheduling and attending meetings) and some of the items on that to-do list are important (writing a book, developing relationships with clients) but not urgent. Worse yet, some of our most important work doesn’t even hit our to-do lists — spending time with loved ones, following our passions, taking time for ourselves. This important work isn’t time-sensitive and doesn’t feel urgent but if we want to lead meaningful lives and achieve our goals, we have to focus on it.

In the past, I have struggled with accomplishing the important tasks. I have gone days, even weeks, running around getting lots done but not moving forward. Yes, I’ve got the kids to preschool and school and made lunches and had three client meetings and planned a play-date and checked off many items on my to-do list but I haven’t done what really matters. You know why? Because I was a slave to the urgent, racing from one thing to the next, never getting to what was truly important.

Then I stopped, took stock of my life and started prioritizing what really matters. I thought about what my passions were and what made my life feel meaningful and I made space for it. Now I get both the important and the urgent accomplished. I’ve written three books this year, started a blog, spent lots of time with my family, had some great vacations and also made sure the urgent tasks were accomplished.

What fills your tank and what helps you contribute to the world? That is what gives your life meaning. Those are the most important things in our lives and we have to make time for them. The urgent tasks always manage to get done — because they are urgent. Where we need to focus is on the important work we have to do. The work of living good, fulfilling lives. I like to choose two things that I want to get done every day and they are the first things that I tackle — they are not the most urgent but they are important. Because if the important is left at the mercy of the urgent, it never gets done.

So how do we figure out what is really important? The question I like to ask myself is, if I never get this done, will it become a regret? Recently, I wrote about how to live with fewer regrets and this is one strategy you can use. I choose two things to do every day- one that fills my tank and one that fulfills my purpose. You have to have a full tank in order to do everything else in your life. I encourage you to try choosing two things to do every day — one to fill your tank and one to contribute your gifts to the world.

It’s simple and achievable — I chunk my goals down into daily tasks — writing a book is a big goal. Writing two pages today is manageable. Making my kids feel loved and connected is an enormous and lifelong goal — giving them a cuddle or making time to read three stories to them is an achievable daily task.

We all have busy lives and many urgent tasks to accomplish but we need to be intentional about creating a life that fulfills us, otherwise we find that days, weeks, months, even years, have passed and we haven’t lived our own lives, we have lived for others. It doesn’t take long to do the two important tasks that I choose every day — giving my kids a cuddle in the morning takes ten minutes, having a bath takes fifteen minutes, I wrote most of this blog post while riding the bus. When we focus on what’s important, we make it happen and trust me, we’ll always take care of what’s urgent. Somehow we fit the urgent things in.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and the mundane — yes, the bills have to get paid and the kids lunches need to get made (they are the bane of my existence — those lunches!) but just choose two things to do every day — one that fills your tank and one that fulfills your purpose and see how much more satisfying life can feel.

Think about what makes your life feel meaningful and choose to intentionally create a life where you are prioritizing what is most important to you. Then, your life feels meaningful. I would love to hear your ideas and what you have done in order to prioritize what matters and build an intentionally good life.

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