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Be The Master Of Your To Do List Every Day

This article was based on episode 211 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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When Mark J. Silverman started working for himself, he encountered an enormous problem: he couldn’t get his work done. Faced with a massive to-do list, he got overwhelmed. He took on too much and ended up dropping the ball.


Mark’s productivity struggles forced him to deeply look at his habits and investigate new ways of working that better served him. From these years of reflection, he discovered a better way. Mark captured his learnings in his book Only 10s: Confront Your To-Do List, Transform Your Life. This book became an instant hit because so many of us share Mark's struggle. Now an executive coach, author, and podcast host, Mark works with leaders and their teams around the world to address the underlying behaviors and mindsets that sabotage all “time management” and “productivity tools”.


I spoke with Mark about his big idea “Only 10s”. Tens are the things that have to be done, today, by you. By focusing only on work that is a 10, we create a life dedicated to our deepest values and priorities. Mark shares with us here the key strategies to getting our important and urgent work done in the healthiest way possible.


CREATE A TO DO LIST OF ONLY 10S


As you sit down to create an Only 10s to-do list, begin by examining what needs to be done today, that can only be done by you. Be realistic about how much time you have and what can be postponed another day. If you’ve got too many 10s, you’re likely saying “yes” to too many people or projects.


For tasks that aren’t a 10 because they don’t need to be done today, add them to your to do list for tomorrow, or whatever day makes sense. If it’s not a 10 because someone else can do it, consider who you can delegate to. While it often takes time up front to delegate, it saves time in the future and frees you to focus on your 10s.


After a few days, Mark suggests taking a look at what has been on your Only 10s list for days and still not done. Why wasn’t it accomplished earlier? What systems do you need to put into place to get your work done? Do you need reminders on your calendar or from your assistant? More realistic deadlines? Consider how to change that pattern so at the end of the day, your only 10s list is completed.


LEARN TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS


When we focus our attention on pleasing others, we don’t set boundaries for what we can actually accomplish. Mark often hears people worry that they can’t prioritize only 10s because other people are relying on them. His response: Go talk to them.


Give Feedback To A Colleague

Many people have trouble delegating work that doesn’t need to be done by them because they’re worried that other people won’t do it to meet their standards. Then, when they do finally delegate, they end up doing extra work to cover for an underperforming teammate.


Part of setting boundaries is being able to set standards for quality of work and ensure those standards are met. While it’s uncomfortable, giving feedback for subpar work helps our teammates know what we need from them. Crucially, it also saves us time from jumping in every time and fixing their work so that it meets our standards. When you give feedback, create agreements with your team members about what success will look like. While it takes some time to train your team in this way, it saves you energy in the long run because it’s off your plate and you can rely on others.


Say No To Your Boss

CEOs, senior leaders and yes, even managers, can dole out lots of tasks to accomplish their goals without considering if the workload is feasible to their employees. Employees must learn to push back. While it’s scary to think about saying no because it means we might upset our boss or miss out on future opportunities, it’s necessary to our own long term success. Find the courage to go to your boss to ask for their help in addressing your capacity constraints. Mark suggests using affirmative statements such as “I want to help get things done but I need more resources.” Problem solve ways to get both of your needs met.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SAY NO


When you decide to change from your people-pleasing ways and set better boundaries, not everyone will be thrilled. In Mark’s experience, there are three common responses to this shift. First, those who have been using you as a crutch to get everything they need done may leave. The second group will grumble and try to argue with you about taking on more, but as long as you stay firm, they will come around and ultimately have a better relationship with you. The third type will communicate relief; they had been waiting for you to finally say no!


As Mark puts it, the only things we really own in this world are our time and attention. Our to-do list is our only currency. The incredible beauty of paring down our to-do list to Only 10s is that we can then spend time on what matters most to us. Not everyone may love the new change in us, but the important people will. By learning how to have difficult conversations through saying no and delegating, we create boundaries that truly honor the lives we want to lead. Through our to-do lists, we shape our lives. Let’s concentrate on our Only 10s.


KEEP UP WITH MARK

Instagram: @markjsilverman


Get nine video modules on topics including difficult conversations, dealing with distractions, and energy mastery from Mark when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.


This article was based on episode 211 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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