Organizing Backwards

“The only true borders lie between day and night, between life and death, between hope and loss.” Erin Hunter

Life is backwards. The energy of life is push and pull. Often, more than often, things that “should” make sense, “should” happen a certain way, do not. During my lifetime I have been witness to many, many situations where life has been backwards or opposite of what “should” be, and I have learned to play the odds. Playing the odds makes living with the frustration of opposite a lot less frustrating and a lot more fun.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Soren Kierkegaard

In the book, “How Women Rise”, authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith write about one way in which women win by creating habits that help them get that promotion, that job, that recognition. The lessons to learn from this road map can be applied to many facets of life itself, not just in the workplace. In our case we can use those teachings toward becoming organized whether in mind, body, or spirit or space.

“Sometimes our stop-doing list needs to be bigger than our to-do list.” Patti Digh, Four-Word Self-Help: Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives

In today’s fast paced, out of control, unpredictable world, organizing thoughts, tasks and health is tricky. So rather than talk about a To-Do list, let us talk about a To-Don’t list. Working backwards or opposite of what “should” happen just might be the key to getting things done and done well. Hold that thought a minute………..

What is a real To-Do list? No really, is a To-Do list only a list of chores? Is a To-Do list an iron clad list of what the day holds in store for true accomplishment? Is a To-Do list just an excuse to show ourselves that we have a purpose for the day? I think a successful To-Do list shouldn’t hit you over the head with a 2x4 listing tasks that can’t be completed in one day yet we tend to overload our To-Do list with tasks around the one or two very important items that really need to get done. A successful To-Do list does not include procrastination and yet the list we often create screams procrastination at every turn.

The goal of a To-Do list is to make sure that what needs to get done reaches a complete and accomplished end. We like the action of crossing off completed tasks and running a thick dark line through each item on the list; it helps us feel purposeful and gives us a sense of busyness for today. I have been guilty of feeling like I did not have enough items on my list, not enough tasks to justify my use of time in a day, and adding an item to the list after it was already completed just to fill the list with those dark lines. To-Do lists are good psychology and, in most instances, bolster feelings of well being and usefulness.

If you tend to overload your list to include tasks that you most likely won’t get to, it sets you up to do the easiest tasks first and use your peak energy on and risk leaving no energy for the tasks that really need your attention.

A To-Do list should consist of three columns: The Task (chores) column, the Commitment (appointments, deadlines) column and the Intentions (determined to get done but always allowed to be undermined) column. We tend to overload on the tasks column because we put too much perfectionist energy toward accomplishing the commitments and/or intentions tasks and we therefore feel defeated before we begin. Wow, this is very heavy stuff here. Too much stress and anxiety.

A To-Don’t list works backwards. It focuses on what won’t get done in order to purposefully put good energy toward what absolutely will get done. Declaring what won’t get done first, helps set up a great To-Do list. This might be the key to all procrastination and feelings of perfectionism.

A To-Don’t list consists of things you will not allow to time suck your peak energy or sabotage your intentional tasks. This is success from the bottom up or living life opposite. A To-Don’t list consists, in part, of items you would like to let go of, items you would rather give to someone else to do because the time constraints hinder you from getting to the meatier, more involved parts of your list. These hand over items go on your To-Don’t list in order to create deeper intention and accountability toward your To-Do list or your “yes I will” list.

In some instances, a To-Don’t list is like an If/then statement. “If I can get 2 hours toward completing this task, then I will know I made significant headway toward completing the whole project.”

In other ways a To-Don’t list looks like:

“I will not be available to every invite I receive this week. What I need to accomplish is very important to me.”

“I will take time to consider my answers to challenges that come up this week instead of rushing to save the day with a quick answer. I will not people please.”

“I will ask my associate/partner/friend/sibling to take on the planning of this event so that I can concentrate on the details in another particular area.”

By not taking on every single piece of a task, you are establishing boundaries and putting your peak energy toward those pieces that are in your strength’s wheelhouse. You are creating and reinforcing awareness of self and creating honesty about what you really want to do without feeling overwhelmed.

Keep It Simply Simple

The question that can help you to know for sure that a task belongs on your To-Don’t list is by asking: “Is there a benefit to me doing this task or to me taking it off my To-Do list?” Will I be more accepted if I do it, will I be more popular if I do it, will I be looked upon as more reliable if I do it. You have the makings of a great To-Don’t list if the adjectives described here either have answers that don’t matter to you; you are not looking for that kind of acceptance or they just don’t apply because you know boundaries are necessary. You can see yourself accomplishing your goals on your terms without guilt, anxiety, or failure.

“No" is a complete sentence.” Annie Lamott

There are 7 ways to say no to someone and not feel bad about it, according to Jonathan Alpert of

Here are just 4 of those top tips when it comes to organizing: ALWAYS:

· Be courteous because you absolutely do believe in your “no.” Nothing gets accomplished with a bad attitude or an overwhelmed perspective. It can sound something like this: “I would love to help but my plate is full this week.”

· Be firm. Leave no room for someone to 2nd guess you or try to change your mind about your intentions and decision. If someone tries to undermine or disrespect your response to a request, this person might not be someone you want on your team.

· Be direct and selfish with your intentions and answers. Very successful people know where they want their energies to flow toward. They say no often because what is being asked does not serve them. No means no. Again, this is a boundaries issue and you need to establish your boundaries so as not to be taken advantage of. Do not use words like, maybe, perhaps, what if, well, possibly.

· Put the question or the task on to the person asking: “I’d like to help with this project but I can not start until next week and will need “x” amount of time to complete it. How would you like me to prioritize the task?”

Any one of these questions can be asked of each of us when facing an overwhelming project like getting organized. What will you allow and not allow to get in the way of your goals? What will go on your To-Don’t list first so that your To-Do list is more manageable and achievable? Who will you say no to and establish boundaries for in order to be successful and maintain good energy?

"Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom." - Henry Cloud



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