Step away from your To-Do list

Can you imagine clearing your to-do list and having nothing left to work on?  No, thought not.
There’s always something you can do at work isn’t there.

Of course, this is doubly true if you work for yourself or run a micro business. You’ve got a million  things you could be turning your attention to.  If it’s not delivering your services / products, it’s marketing, business development, creative thinking, keeping up to date with new ideas in your niche, dull but necessary admin, sending invoices, paying invoices, fixing the printer (again), testing out new software and apps or grabbing some lunch, a coffee, or some fresh air.

That was yesterday for me.  Pretty normal stuff if I’m honest.

But if you’re employed by someone else, the list is a little bit different.

Your whole job role may be about service delivery OR marketing OR business development etc etc.
But you still will never run out of things to do because your employer will stack your to do list really high and full of stretching challenges.  That’s great because you love a challenge and love learning new stuff or exploring new ways of doing things.

However, I believe it’s absolutely vital that your workload never seems like it’s unending.  If it’s infinitely large you never get the chance to feel like you’ve achieved an end point.  Yes, you can deliver a project, a report or tick something off your to-do list but the sheer joy of thinking that you’ve ticked everything off your list and NOW you get the chance to turn your attention to something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, is just fantastic.

But this is rare.   So, leaders have to force it to happen.

Some organisations deliberately build this free thinking or experimenting time into their work week.  Google was one of the first to implement 20% time – where Fridays were turned over to staff to work on projects of their own choosing which helped the company deliver its goals.  It’s largely thought that they’ve moved away from this hard and fast Friday rule now, but the principles still exist.

Other organisations offer their staff half a day a fortnight to do something creative and of their own choosing (linked to their job role and the company’s strategic aims).  This seems to be about the right level to me. It’s equivalent to 5% of your working time. 

It’s a really interesting exercise to consider what you’d do in your own role IF you had this option. 

Here’s the thinking tree pattern

  1. Your workload and to-do list are long.  You haven’t ticked off everything.  There are things you still need to do.
  2. 5% time comes around tomorrow.  You get a chance to do something unique and creative. You’ve got 4 hours to work on something.
  3. How much of your inner-being is craving to tick more things off your to-do list and use 2 or 3 of those 4 hours to get ahead and then try and cram something creative into the last hour…?
  4. That’s the problem.  People have to be coerced and forced into putting down their to-do list and allowing themselves to be free thinking.  They feel like they’re cheating the system if they’re not on the ball 100% of the time.


That’s why my working week always includes some free-thinking time. That’s why “creative thinking” was on the list above of things I turned my hand to yesterday.  It’s not 20% or 5%. Nor do I even think about it in these terms.  If I’m feeling snowed under with my workload.  I’ll force myself to switch states and work creatively for an hour.   I may do this once a week, 4 times a week or for a whole day sometimes.  Some of my best client innovations have come out of this way of working.

So, give yourself a break from your to-do list.

If you had 2 hours tomorrow to work on something creative, what might you do?  Comment below if you’re happy to share.

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