"How do I choose my ONE GOAL to work on?"

Which idea (of the many ideas I have) do I act on first?

Where should I begin when I’ve got a list of things I’d like to start doing or areas in which I’d like to start improving?

Over the past year, I’ve received messages from many of you that pose some variation of the same question. Although I love sharing my thoughts with each of you on a case-by-case basis (and I’ll always do so), I figure it’s time I answer this question here on the blog—for future folks to discover and hopefully find some resonance.

This question is such a good one! It really speaks to a universal and pervasive desire to Do All The Things Now, and it also tells me that one of the biggest, most common obstacles to starting is a feeling of having too many worthwhile options. Naturally, if you can’t suss out which thing on your list is The Right Thing to attack first (because everything seems important and deserving of immediate attention), it’s easiest to do nothing at all—and to hope that one day, you’ll revisit the list and some clarity will emerge on its own; you’ll know what you need to do.

To be fair, I do think that happens; I’ve seen it firsthand, the setting aside of the list, then the later revisiting of the list, and BAM! Clarity (usually because circumstances have changed and priorities have been revealed) and forward movement.

That being said, what an utterly passive way to live. I suspect what most of us really want is to stretch and challenge ourselves to create momentum and possibility in our lives, rather than sit around waiting for it to whack us over the head.

Another thing: Time is of the essence. I’m not implying we need to rush, but I am saying that we’ve got no control over how much time we get on this earth...and we’ve got a lot more control over how we spend what time we do have than this passive approach would suggest.

So, then: how to proactively choose a starting place when the list is long, worthwhile, and perhaps a bit daunting.

You’re going to hate me for this answer, but here it is:

CHOOSE.

I mean it. Pick one of the projects or endeavors on your list, and begin.

Why such an unscientific/un-coach-y approach? Why no pro/con lists? Why no weighing of priorities?

Because it doesn’t really matter.

How do I know it doesn’t matter?

Well, you’ve already proven this by the fact that you’re unable to decipher which thing is more important than the other things.

Obviously, none is more important—because if it was, you’d know.

You’d know that getting your body back to a healthy and fit place is the most essential thing you can do right now.

Or finally beginning your memoir.

Or decluttering your closets and dressers.

Or socializing more.

You’d know—without having to deliberate.

As for your deliberation—this constant hemming and hawing over your list—and your subsequent lack of action because The Right Answer feels too inconspicuous? It tells me a few things:

  1. Unfortunately and probably unknowingly, you’ve already made your choice (and it’s not a great one, to be honest). You’ve chosen fear over action. Fear of everything on your list, fear of picking the wrong thing, fear of failing at whichever thing you do finally pick to begin, fear even of the possibly wonderful changes that will come about once you commit and take the first step forward.

  2. You don’t actually want any of the things on your list. Not truly. Not enough. Or if you do want them, it’s because you want the outcome only; you want to have done them or achieved them—but you don’t necessarily want to put in the elbow grease that’s required to make them happen for yourself. In this sense, your wants are a bit more like fairy godmother wishes.

  3. No right answer exists...and on some level, you already know this. So, really, you can’t go wrong just picking one (eeny, meeny, miny, moe style works) and diving in. In all seriousness, you see that you’ve got nothing to lose, right? The alternative to picking one and diving in is doing nothing at all...and continuing to hope that some magic will occur and you’ll finally get what feels like a more concrete plan for moving forward. I promise you this concrete plan will never come. Not without your intervention, that is. You’re the only one who can take the first step, and then, with that initial ACTION, summon the next step to materialize.

So, if none of your options is heads-and-shoulders more important than the others, there is no method, no prescription, no best practice for how to choose what to work on first.

Rather, the method is a verb, a one-word directive, that’s embedded in that sentence: CHOOSE.

If you’re feeling even a little bit galvanized by this post, go ahead and declare in the comments below what you’re choosing to start now that you’re clear there is no Right Thing to do first (and no particular approach—besides taking action—by which you’ll uncover it). I’ll engage with you to see if we can get your next first-step mapped out, so that by the time you click away from this post, you know exactly what you need to do to get moving.


What to do when your email problem feels...bigger

One of you replied to me last week, letting me know that my 25-minutes-at-a-time tip for conquering unanswered emails was helpful—but it didn’t quite get to the core of your problem. You wrote: “My struggle with emails is not that I need to answer them, but there’s something in them I need to do. Follow up on, read, watch. And that takes longer than the 25 minutes.”

Gaah, of course!

I’ve been there—in fact, I’m right there with you most every day I open my inbox—but it hadn’t occurred to me until your note that that was the worthwhile thing to look at, from a strategic coaching perspective.

What’s the best way to handle those emails that require some action on your part?

If you work in an organization with others, it might be that someone’s asked you to do something, and then get back to her on it—and you know you’ll need to set aside a good chunk of time to do the task, a chunk of time that doesn’t exist on your calendar at the moment.

If it’s your personal inbox, maybe you’ve received a newsletter that references a podcast that sounds interesting—one that you’d like to give a listen to, but can’t make the time for right now because it just isn’t your priority.

If you run your own business, perhaps it’s a colleague’s email that announces an interview she gave with some big-time blogger; of course you want to read it, you even want to leave a comment on the post to show your support, but today’s to-do list doesn’t include such an activity. (Come to think of it, tomorrow’s and the next day’s don’t either. You simply don’t have a to-do list for these types of activities, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important to you.)

So, then, it’s these types of emails that tend to sit around and clog up your inbox. What’s the handy rule or trick to apply to them?

I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all approach (if only I had one!), but I can give you two sensible options based on my own experience and my work with clients on this very subject:

1. Go non-linear. From Steve Chandler’s Time Warrior, one of my favorite personal development books of all time:

Non-linear time management is a commitment to action in the present moment. It's looking at a task and choosing NOW or not now. If it's not now, it's got to be NEVER, or placed in a time capsule that has a spot on the calendar and therefore is out of the mind. The mind must remain clear and empty of all future considerations. All fear comes from picturing the future. Putting things off increases that fear. Soon we are nothing but heavy minds weighing down on weary brains. Too much future will do that. Only a warrior's approach will solve this. A warrior takes his sword to the future. A warrior also takes his sword to all circumstances that don't allow him to fully focus.

Okay, what does this mean when it comes to our inboxes?

Well, for starters, I’d say it means you have to make decisions when you’re inside your inbox. Become a ruthless decision-maker.

Will you handle this email right now?

Yes? Perfect. Do it and be done with it.

No? That’s great, too. Click over to your calendar and create a spot on the calendar for dealing with it, specifically.

You might decide to carve out an hour every week wherein you tie up the loose ends of your inbox, all at once; perhaps instead of every week, it becomes a biweekly thing (because let’s be realistic here). A recurring event on your calendar that’s titled, “LOOSE ENDS,” and in the description for the event, you make a list of the email subject lines that you’ve flagged as needing your attention at this specific later date.

Regardless, the idea here is NOW or NOT NOW. It’s an empowered vertical move instead of a horizontal one that says you have to respond to things as they come up, no matter if they derail your greater priorities for your life.

2. Catch and release. Now, this is a decidedly less organized technique than Steve’s suggestion to go non-linear, but I know for a fact that it can work for the right people. If the idea of assigning a date to everything makes your skin crawl, 1. that sounds like resistance and would probably be very interesting, and I dare say fun, to explore in a coaching conversation together, but 2. I get it, and would recommend experimenting with the following:

Start to keep a sticky note list (I use Google Keep personally, but if you want to go analog with this one, knock yourself out) of the stuff you want to scope out and will scope out when you find yourself in-between projects, needing a break from whatever’s in front of you, or at a loss as to what you ought to be doing next with your time.

This approach works best for articles to read and podcasts to listen to; it absolutely doesn’t work for tasks that have someone else waiting on you.

To give you a specific example, I’ve got a Keep list that’s titled, Books to Check Out the Next Time I’m At the Library. I add to this list whenever I see mention of a book that interests me immediately, but that I’ve no time or bandwidth to research in the moment.

As for podcasts, if it’s something new that I know I want to listen to, at least give it a try, I’ll open up the Podcast app and subscribe right away, in the moment (so, this is a little bit of Steve’s approach blended in). This way, the next time I’m out in the garden or heading out for a walk and I open up the app, I’m greeted with a visual reminder that there’s something new I want to experience.

Another Keep list you might create? Resources to Explore Instead of Scrolling Instagram. On it might be that friend’s interview with the big-time blogger or an interesting-sounding article that someone mentioned in her newsletter, but that you couldn’t stop to read in its entirety at the time. Maybe these are things you’d like to give your time to instead of the mindless scrolling while your waiting for the dental hygienist to call you back.

And if they’re not? If you find that you’d rather just have a zone-out moment with Instagram? That’s okay. Simply recognize that the enthusiasm you have for some new resource might have a natural half-life. It might be a rabbit hole that, if you don’t or can’t allow yourself to go down in the moment, won’t ever be as compelling to you as your usual apps and decompression outlets. And that’s okay! It can come off your list!

So, there you have it. Those are my two big recommendations for those of us who find ourselves with a backlog of emails that aren’t being dealt with because of something bigger than procrastination.

If you find yourself with a ton of unanswered correspondence, I’d suggest first that you separate out what’s what: Which emails can you conquer using my 25-minute egg timer method and which have an embedded action or interest that needs to be handled before they can be filed? Deal with the quick-but-delayed responses first (25 minutes is nothing! And you’ll feel better by the end of it), then crack open your calendar and pull up your Google Keep, and get to assigning a home for everything.

Have a better method, or one that’s totally unexpected and wildly helpful? I’m all ears! Share it with us in the comments below, and let’s learn something from each other.


Three ways to ensure you're living your best life

1. Inquire within as to what the trendy directive “live your best life” even means. And more specifically, what it means to YOU. No sense keeping it a mystery to yourself; vagueness helps no one here.

2. Whenever you start the day uncertain—or, perhaps, despairing—about living this elusive best life, try asking yourself, “What feels like a good, conscious way for me to use my time TODAY?” Ground into the present (which is all that exists; that future best life you’re seeking doesn’t even exist—it’s just an image in your mind, a product of your imagination) and then slow the hell down. Which brings us to...

3. Try TAKING your time instead of MANAGING it. Once you’ve grounded yourself in the present and slowed the hell down, milk this moment on this day for all it’s worth. If you won’t get another today (and I promise you, you won’t—once today’s over and done with, it’s...well, over and done with), how do you need to operate within the sixteen or so waking hours you have? And I’m not talking about maximizing your productivity. I’m talking about answering for yourself questions such as: What matters most right now? Who matters most right now? How can I use my right-now moment within this one today to give and receive the maximum love, satisfaction, healing, creativity, comfort, change, etc.?

Does this resonate with you? If so, I’d love to hear what thoughts it stirs up. Comment below, and let’s jam.

How do YOU value the time you have here?

I often think about time and how we choose to use ours.

I love to read interviews with and profiles on people who are particularly candid about how they establish their priorities in work and in life, and then how they structure their days accordingly. It’s something we all have to do, and yet, it’s not something we’re taught in school (at least, I wasn’t), nor is it something very many folks talk about outside of philosophical discussions and professional development seminars.

So, today I’m wondering: How do you make sure you’re valuing the time you have here?

Do you live by a motto of some sort?

Do you keep a bucket list, or write and revise five- and ten-year plans?

Or, do you pretty much roll with the punches and course-correct where necessary?

I’d love to know, so leave me a comment below.

Time Tip #1

We can do anything, but we can’t do everything.

Remember, time is our most precious resource, and it’s non-renewable.

This means we have to choose. We have to figure out what our priorities are, what we’ll regret not doing in this lifetime, and do those things more than we work our to-do lists like diligent, little minions.

If your priority is to stay in touch, stay in touch. Pull out a notecard, take five minutes to write a thoughtful sentence, and drop it in the mail.

Do one thing today that gets you closer to what’s most important to you in this one life.

An important postscript:

Don’t immediately go into the headspace of, “Oh, I really should do that” (“that” being to write a note to someone you love); instead, try tuning in to find out if it’s even a priority of yours, something you want to make time for. If it is, great—add a recurring monthly appointment to your calendar for snail mail correspondence. If it’s not, great—give yourself the gift of two minutes to think about what might be a priority of yours that you haven’t made time for lately. THIS is how we live lives of meaning—by doing more of what’s important to us with the time we have here.