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How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List

How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List


    To do lists are vital to ensuring that we have a way to keep tabs on all of the “stuff” we’ve got going on in our lives. One of the problems with to do lists is that we tend to throw a lot on them and have a difficult time breaking it down into manageable and – better still – meaningful chunks. We tend to tackle it in the order it appears or based what we do on the deadlines that have been set for each item. Not everyone is going to be able to easily break the habit of focusing on time over task, but there are methods you can use to better connect with what’s really important to you on your to do list to make sure you’re not just checking off boxes. Instead, you’ll be checking off the right boxes.

    One of the best ways I’ve found to cultivate a better to do list is through the use of more meaningful contexts.

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    What is a Context?

    A context (in the realm of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology) is described as follows:

    “A context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action.” – via Evomend.net


    That essentially means you can attach a context to a task that can be based on where you need to be or what you have available to you at particular moments so that you can work on said task. But tasks like “Reply to email X” and “Go shopping for anniversary gift” somewhat lend themselves to place-based contexts without you really having to think about it.

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    So what I suggest is that you attach deeper meaning to those tasks by connecting those tasks to trait-based or emotion-based contexts.

    For example, “Reply to email X” may be an email you have to send thanking someone for coming through for you on a particular project or endeavor. So rather than tag that task with a context like “Email” or “Computer”, use “Gratitude” instead. Not only does it put you in a better mindset to send that specific email, but it also connects all of the tasks that are based on gratitude together when you search for that context (or “tag”, depending on what task management software you are using).

    Sample Trait-Based and Emotion-Based Contexts

    • Knowledge: When you are doing research for a project or learning about something.
    • Love: When you are doing a task associated with romance or fostering a romantic or family relationship.
    • Passion: When you have a burning passion for the to do list item, then this is a great context to use to stay focused on what it is you are truly passionate about (you can filter the passionate items from the ones that aren’t tagged as such).
    • Practice: When you are working towards getting better at something, using this context can help you track those things – as well as how much time and energy you are spending on them.
    • Willpower: Use this context when you really need to tap into your sense of willpower to power through a task.
    • Kindness: When you are doing something just to be kind, then this context can be very useful.

    There are plenty of other contexts you can use that can help you connect more deeply with what would normally be a list of boxes you need to check off – attaching them to these boxes won’t just give them a deeper meaning…they may actually play a much bigger part in your productivity.

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    By adding a deeper meaning to your tasks, they will become more important. That, in turn, will drive you to get more done. When you remove the known logical contexts from the equation (Home, Work, Computer, Phone) and replace them with something more “holistic” like the examples I mentioned above, there’s less of a coaxing involved to keep you moving forward.

    After all, we all know where we physically need to be to get certain things done. The trick to compelling you to do them involves tapping into the “why” you are doing them – and that’s where emotion-based contexts come into play.

    Give it a try – even with just one context to start. I bet you’ll find that a deeper meaning to your to do list will mean a deeper connection to what really matters to more than just what’s on that to do list. It’ll mean a deeper connection to what really matters to you.

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    Photo: Businessman Holding Plates with Smiles via Shutterstock

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

    2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

    Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

    Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

    Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

    Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

    Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

    By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

    The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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    1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

    Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

    Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

    Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

    When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

    The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

    Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

    To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

    Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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    We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

    It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

    After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

    Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

    Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

    To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

    Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

    Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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    When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

    Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

    We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

    When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

    Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

    2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

    If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

    The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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    To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

    With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

    So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

    • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
    • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
    • Say no to all else.
    • Say no again.
    • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
    • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
    • Meditate.
    • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
    • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
    • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
    • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
    • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
    • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

    Final Thoughts

    These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

    Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

    More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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