I believe that each of us has, somewhere in the back of our heads, a “to do someday” list. Stop and take a moment to think of all the things that you’d like to do someday. I wan you to have them firmly in mind as I talk about a couple of reasons why you need to work on them sooner rather than later.
First, I’m not talking about impossible dreams or a “bucket list.” I’m talking about things you want to accomplish, but haven’t gotten to yet. What falls into this category? Make a mental note of them.
I’ve shared some of mine, but now I’ll share a more exhaustive list. I wanted to someday:
- write a book
- start a business
- start running
- have a regular date night with my wife
- create regular videos to put on YouTube
You have your list yet? It doesn’t need to look like mine. I just want it to be things that you could accomplish given the time and attention. “Start running” won’t work if you’re a quadriplegic, at least not yet. “Having a date night with my spouse” doesn’t work if you don’t have a spouse. You get what I’m talking about, right?
Now, how do you accomplish them? I think there are a couple of keys that work for me. I hope they help.
Realize you’re not going to live forever
I know that intellectually, everyone knows they’re not going to live forever, but I don’t think a lot of people really embrace that fact. Think of it this way, what would you change now if you knew that you were going to drop dead suddenly in a week or a month? I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a lot. I might lower the amount of marketing I do and raise the amount of content I create, but when my family was away, that’s ALL I would do. When they were home, I’d spend as much time as possible with them.
In the last couple of months, I’ve seen the uncertainty of life first-hand. I have an uncle who was my example in the areas of generosity and entrepreneurship. A few years ago, his wife had a stroke and since they were both in their late 70s, he decided that they’d both move into the nursing home, together. He’d had diabetes for some time as well as congestive heart failure, but it didn’t really seem to bug him that much. He just took it slower than he preferred.
In the weeks leading up to his death, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He lived his life as he normally did. He was trying to get his son to take him to his home town for a visit, but his son refused, having just taken him a month or two prior. The day before he died he was laughing and joking as usual.
When they found his body, it looked like he’d just laid down to take a nap and died. We all thought my aunt would go first because of the stroke, but suddenly he was gone.
Another friend, in his mid to late 50s, had battled with seizures his whole life, but it seemed as though they were under control.
Every time I saw him at church, he’d wave and say, “hi.” It was mostly small-talk, but I was happy to see him when we saw either other.
One of the last times we’d hung out, he ate the hottest wings at a local wings restaurant. He’d even gotten a t-shirt for doing it. He said they were a little warm, but then again, he was originally from Louisiana, so hot food is normal down there.
That’s the memory I had of him when I heard that they found him dead in his apartment. It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century people still die unexpectedly, but they do. Maybe you will, too. I hope not, but you might, heck, I might.
That’s one motivation for not waiting any longer. Start whatever it is today and get closer to your dream, even if it takes a while to get there.
It clears hard drive space
Think of your brain as a computer with a finite amount of space. Have you ever filled the hard drive on a computer and noticed that it just didn’t run as well as it used to, as a result? That’s what I’m trying to get at. Your brain, filled with plans for “someday” isn’t as free as when it’s empty because they’re done.
This actually came as a surprise to me. When I removed my first book from my brain by writing it, I got ideas for a second and a third. There was also a sense of satisfaction that I didn’t expect.
Some people get a smaller version of these feelings by making “to do” lists. For smaller tasks, I get it. I just don’t want you to forget to do whatever you’re supposed to do because you wrote it down on a scrap of paper that got lost. A much better solution is just to start doing it, not tomorrow, but today.
What you don’t know, because you’re not here in my house, is that I took a break to mail a package just now. While I was out, I was thinking about this chapter and it occurred to me that I’m starting to get addicted to “done.”
Done is what you’re shooting for. Don’t settle for less than done. In some ways, started isn’t as good as “to do someday.”
When you’ve started a project, there’s a certain tension that arises. Sure, it feels good to have started it, but until you get to done, there’s a prodding in the back of your head. I’m 20,000+ words into writing this book and while it feels good to have started, it doesn’t feel good to know that I have 30,000 or so words yet to write.
The knowledge that there’s more yet to do, every day, dogs me. I wake up with the thought, “What will I write today?” and am always looking for time to squeeze it in.
I don’t want to go to sleep until my daily goal is completed, but the first few words are always hard to write.
That’s the tension of being partially done with a project. Don’t give in to the temptation to get partway into a project and quit. You sometimes have to plow through what you want to do and get to what you’ll be happy to have done.
Sometimes running is like that. Last Thursday night, I was on a retreat with my church. The first time I got a chance to go for my run was at 11 pm. I really didn’t want to do it. What echoed in my mind was a quote from my running app on my phone. “‘I really regret that run,’ said no one ever.” It’s a funny way to say it, but I think it’s true. I never regret doing what I should do, what I know I deep down want to do, but I do regret skipping the daily disciplines that actually get them done.
In writing, I often don’t want to do the next step, but I have to remind myself that I won’t regret doing it. I will regret not doing it.
Apply that to your list. Will you regret taking another step toward accomplishing your goal today? Probably not. Will you regret waiting or “skipping just one day”? Probably.
You’ve got to make yourself do what you’ll be proud of later. Don’t be fooled; no one wants to show up every day for whatever their dream is. Some hate everyday; others only hate some days.
The trick is to keep forcing yourself to do it when it’s hard. This is how you clear that list of all the “some day I will” things that clog it. You’ve just got to do it, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t want to. Make it a habit; make it the default. Picture yourself always doing it and feeling satisfied that you didn’t quit. That’s how you do it.
Take another moment and look at that list, whether it’s on paper or not, you know your “to do someday” list. Which thing has a step, however small, that you can do today, to make progress? Now, do it.
Remember that you will die. It could be sooner than you think. Do you want to clear space in your brain for other things or do you want to walk around with your hard drive full? Imagine the satisfaction you’ll feel when it’s done, when you can check it off of your “to do someday” list.
You can be an author, a runner, a business owner, a pastor, a painter, whatever you want. You just need to move your to do someday further down the field into “I am doing it now” territory. Don’t settle there either. You want to get to done as soon as you can, balancing done with done well, while not giving into the temptation of either “good enough” or “perfect.”
I really want you to join me on the journey toward addicted to done. I’d love to hear stories about you continuing to go, even when it’s hard, and finishing a marathon, or a movie, or whatever.
Let’s spread the idea that done is better than started and started is better than stuck on my “to do someday” list. The great tragedy of modern life is that so many people could do so many great things, but instead of doing them, they plan to do them. I really, really don’t want anyone stuck there.
You don’t have to do everything on your list in one chunk, but I’d love if you’d make progress on one thing, then another and then another until you have crossed out everything on your list and you can face death confident that you accomplished it all. That’s our goal.