Oh, hello. How is it nearing the end of January already? If you are like me, with all of this Goal Setting and forward motion and lots of new ideas that have come to me lately, my “Big List”, as I affectionately call it, is exploding. Anyone else feel that way? Anyone else mildly overwhelmed? Today, I’m challenging you to clear the [Massive Seemingly-Never-Ending] To Do List clutter. No tricks. Just efficient, purposeful action. If you do these steps with me, you’ll end today feeling clearer and ready to tackle what you really want to be doing. You ready? Let’s do this!

The BIG List you have on paper may seem overwhelming, but what about The Big List in your head? Denial about what we have to get done and what’s weighing us down is 9 times out of 10 worse than the things we’re worrying about themselves. If you haven’t faced facts, you are lying to yourself. Denial leads to fear and stress about the unknown. It’s self-sabotage and it spins out of control till we take the reins. If that sounds dramatic, let’s revisit how you are feeling right now. Overwhelmed? Stressed out? Then, read on.

Have you ever been in bed at night, unable to sleep because your wheels keep turning? Hello, mental clutter! All the stuff of life swirling in our mind stays there, keeping us awake – like the perpetual dirt cloud around Pigpen in the Peanuts – until we put that junk in its place. We only have a finite amount of mental space and energy every day. And because I can’t draw a “tank”, here’s your Mental Mason Jar : )

If 60% of it is taken up with worry about to-do’s that we haven’t even taken the time to write down out of fear… and 20% of our mind is taken up with conflict or someone else’s negativity weighing us down… and another 10% is taken up by exhaustion and the fact that we haven’t taken a day off – a real day off – in whoknowshowlong… well, that leaves you with about 10% brain space to be the creative, loving, giving, wife, husband, mother, artist, business owner that you were meant to be. Yeah. You see the problem here. You feel the problem. You own that Mental Mason Jar!

How can we create our best work for our clients if we’re functioning at 10% (many times much less than that)? How can we be the best for our family and friends? How can we make more money when we are distracting ourselves on Facebook because we don’t want to deal with finances? How can you be present if your head is somewhere else?

It’s so easy to begin to clear that clutter it’s almost laughable. The reasons we don’t do it most of the time are 1. we don’t know how 2. we make excuses [I don’t have time, money, energy, blah blah. No matter your circumstances, you do have enough time to make a change.] and 3. believe it or not, most people are afraid of success. What happens when it’s all done? What happens when I reach my potential? What will that call me to do? What will people expect of me? I’m not ready! So, we let the clutter pile up so we don’t have to deal with it.

I know “overwhelmed” very well. It’s paralyzing. And it’s our choice to be in that state. Today, I want you to feel the fear and do something about it. So, start small. Start by writing it all down – everything in your mind. If something in your head [or in your office or on your desk or in your car or in your purse] doesn’t have a place and a purpose, it’s clutter and it will swim in your head till you take care of it. It’s taking up energy and brain power that you could be using to act on your dreams. So give all the stuff in your mind a place. All that stuff that you haven’t done anything with out of fear is keeping you from your fullest potential. Period. Do not allow clutter to keep you from greatness. Clutter is your choice. You can let it sabotage you OR you can set yourself up for success. You have the power to change the game in a matter of minutes. 20 or less to be exact. So, here are your first tiny action steps:

1. Get out something to write with or type on. You choose.

2. Look at the clock and give yourself 10 minutes to write aka Download. No stopping. Take a deep breath and start writing everything out – every to-do, project (big or small), worry, fear, anything. Take deep breaths and be honest with yourself. No rules – could be complete sentences, words, bullets, scribble – whatever. Just write. And when you think you have nothing else to download… keep writing. Sometimes we stop because we get anxious or fearful about something we just wrote. Stay with it and get the clutter out of your head and on paper. As you practice downloading your thoughts every day (I do this at night before I go to bed so I have a clear action list for the next day and clear thoughts as I drift off to sleep), this will get easier and easier as the stuff begins to melt away. It is worth the ten minutes to set your life in a positive direction. *If you have time to read this or check Facebook or Twitter today, you have 10 minutes to create a big shift in your life by doing this. Right? Right. No excuses today. Life is too short.

3. OK, when your ten minutes are up, look over what you wrote and pick just three things (projects, worries or tasks) to focus on. They could be huge projects or tiny immediate things you need to get done. I suggest starting with the most overwhelming items on your download list. Chipping away at those will make you so fired up to do the rest! Important: you will not get everything done in a day, but you have to begin somewhere. Do not sabotage yourself again by giving yourself too much to do. Just three things for now, OK? Control yourself, overachievers! Three things a day every day this week. If you do more than that, awesome. Re-write the three things – projects, worries, tasks – you are going to work on first with three action steps under each.

ACTION STEPS have to be physical, accomplish-able in under a couple minutes and they have to be realistic. If you are overwhelmed by an action step or know you likely won’t do it today, you probably didn’t break it down enough. For example, “reply to all of my emails” is not an action step. Sit down at my desk, put on some great music, open my computer, open my mail and read the card on my desk that says Email is just a bunch of decisions that need to be made. Make decisions. …those are action steps. Those are physical steps. Thinking about something doesn’t count. Want a form to print and use? Click on the image below and print it. Be sure to read the previous posts to know how to use this helpful worksheet.

4. DO THEM. We’re talking about three items with three action steps under each to start to clear the clutter out of your life. Mathmatically-inclined friends, that’s a total of 18 minutes MAX to start really making things happen. Some tasks will take 50 action steps. Some will take 2 to fully complete. All that matters is that you start.

BEGIN NOW. No matter how big or small the project, you have to begin to make it happen. Download everything taking up space in your head (from “need a new website and branding” to “get Valentine’s card for Grandma”), prioritize and just start with three items to focus on, write out [physical, tiny, realistic] action steps under each and do them. Rinse and repeat every day. This isn’t rocket science, but I guarantee you some of you are thinking “well, I know what to do to get it done, I just don’t have time.” Precisely. You would have time if you started to break everything down this way. Stuff gets done when you start strong and with a clear plan. You may not know what step 20 is going to be yet, but if you start by taking steps 1-3, I promise the next steps will become clear.

When I start a new magazine, this is how it works every time. I get overwhelmed. Worry starts to spin: there’s just so much to do… how will I ever finish it all? Until I start defining action steps and do them. Day by day, it gets done and within a few weeks we have a polished glossy packed with content we’re all proud of! I don’t have a graphic design team of 20. We are small and we make things happen when we map out our actions and clear the clutter. We make things happen when we make the choice to shift from the denial of the unknown to starting – even if we don’t know what the final steps will be yet. They always present themselves.

Today, I’m right there with you. Life has me by the pants (is that even an expression??) these days. My Big List is bigger than peach on an ant (OK, I really have to stop with the expressions). You get the point. Let’s do this together and make 2013 the best year of our lives!

Begin anywhere. Do not stay stuck in the unknown. Nothing gets done there. Humor me and try this, especially if you are doubtful. It you think this is too simple… DO IT. Get your friends involved too and spread the word. Clear the clutter that’s holding you back from your full potential. Worth doing? I’d say so. Who’s in?

I’ll be giving away prints from my shop when it opens and a one-on-one session with me to a commenter on this series to one lucky commenter, so tell me how you are feeling now and how you feel after you clear some of the Mental Mason Jar clutter! I can’t wait to hear from you. I’ll be choosing a random winner on Valentine’s Day, so get on it!

PREVIOUSLY: And, friends, it’s never too late to start this process. There is NOTHING MAGICAL ABOUT JANUARY 1ST!

GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 1
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 2
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 3
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 4
GOAL SETTING FOR 2013, Part 5
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: CLEAR THE CLUTTER
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: PREPARE FOR GREATNESS
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: TAKE A BREAK!
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: NAME YOUR FEAR
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: CREATE BOUNDARIES

MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IN 2013: ENCOURAGE OTHERS

P.S. Join Emily Ley and me for the Making Brands Happen 2013 Webinar Series. It has been SO much fun the last couple weeks and Part 3 is on Wednesday! If you missed the last two live webinars, you can still register for the series and get the video replay so you can get caught up for Part 3 next week! Video recordings and homework will be sent out to all registered attendees so you won’t miss a thing. See y’all again next Wednesday!

P.P.S. Seats for the first-ever two-day Making Things Happen Conference are FLYING! We cannot wait to see everyone in March!

P.P.P.S. I love y’all. Seriously. It’s been a rough couple of weeks and your comments and progress make my heart sing!

Show Comments (25)
  1. @jennifer_blair_

    RT: love this! Oh, and it works! @laracasey: If your big To Do list is exploding, read this. http://t.co/TvTylvMp

  2. Dana Laymon

    it’s amazing how much was floating around in my head that i would forget to write down or was affraid to write down! i thought i had a pretty good list but i realized I wasn’t writing down the little things that still take time to do and cause clutter in my brain! it feels so good to have a full list and to put priorities next to them and know that I just need to look at the little list every day and not get overwhelmed. and the fear of success?! it is so true! we almost don’t want to complete the list, because then what? we could actually accomplish something! you can’t look at the big list. EVER :)

  3. Wilmarose Orlanes

    This was very much needed! There’s been this paralyzingly feeling hovering over my head and now I know it’s fear… Now I must go download my list and overcome it! Thank you so much. xo

  4. Emily Hansel

    That drawing is not embarrassing! I think you need to gold foil it for the shop. Going to get a big piece of paper now. Fingers crossed John’s nap lasts 10 more minutes at least.

  5. Kathryn Denelle Stevens

    Whenever I follow these steps and actually follow through on this list, I am instantly more relaxed and focused! Creating my list and actionable steps…now!

  6. Diane Phillips

    There’s so many things that you have written Lara that I have put into place and are all working for me. My daily task list to focus on each day, of which 9 times out of 10 I accomplish. I realize now that being productive is not just in the professional sense but also on the personal side. Keeping a journal at the end of my day of all the things that happened or didn’t happen, what I’m grateful for has helped. You’ve inspired me to create a closer bond with God and I even started reading the Bible every night before bed. After I do that, as I’m laying in bed, I talk to God in my hand and say a prayer for all the things that I’m grateful for that happened in the day, what I am worried about and ask for guidance. With that I release it and I can sleep instead of worrying and obsessing which means losing sleep! I’m definitely going to use your print out to help guide me. I’ve got my office to clear of clutter which is my task this weekend. Thank you for all your fabulous guidance and advice. You are truly inspiring! :)

  7. Carrie Pratt

    Thanks for the reminder of this Lara!

  8. Ziza

    Working through and writing down all these steps since Part One has created the best little pocket-sized encouragement book. Every morning I’ve been reading back through what I want more of, what worked, what I’m saying YES to, what my mission is…stuffing that mason jar full of truth before the negativity gets in. Seriously, this downloading stuff is addicting…

  9. @JessicaLobdell

    RT @laracasey: How to conquer your Big To Do List: http://t.co/DSlcc2Iy

  10. Amanda

    as always this WHAT i needed to read it, RIGHT when i needed to read it. I swear you are in my head sometimes Lara!! have a fabulous weekend!!

  11. Debbie

    I’m taking the webinar series and starting to apply a lot of what you are talking about there and on the blog. I have often felt overwhelmed with the massive to do list. It’s so true that once you start breaking it down it seems so much more manageable and you actually start getting things done. I love the idea of small action steps b/c you can feel rewarded and an act of completion even though the big action is not yet complete – at least you know you are getting there by chipping away at it one day at a time.
    Looking forward to continuing the series and mapping my progress. Thanks!

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  13. Leslie Adair (@coastalharp)

    RT @laracasey: How to conquer your Big To Do List: http://t.co/DSlcc2Iy

  14. Katyrenee

    Yes! Thank you for the reminder. It is so nice to have a plan and take a few baby steps. Up first, picking out materials for my new project. Easy enough, but will definitely give me some forward momentum.

  15. Marcie | HMP (@hmarciephoto)

    RT @laracasey: How to conquer your Big To Do List: http://t.co/DSlcc2Iy

  16. Tabitha

    Lara,
    Your words hit home on so many levels! Thank you for what you write! You are amazing! My self-inflicted overwhelmed-ness comes from my desire to better my blog, brand and dream job. Somehow I feel that if it’s not immediately successful that somehow I’ve failed and I’m doomed. So my action items are to sit down (with the amazing tools that have been given to me through The Making Brands Happen Webinar!!!) and really start to chip away at who I really am and how that falls in line with my blog, brand, shop etc. I want to be authentic and I want to live a life full of the lovely people and things that fire me up so these action items may seem small but are of massive importance!
    1.Sit down with that piece of paper that’s been screaming at me and write my desires for the blog and shop.
    2.Take one of those hopes and turn it into reality this week (i.e post about my girl’s nursery)
    3.Make one more canvas for my shop.
    Feel’s good!!

  17. Katie O'Keefe

    Lara, I needed this! This week has been so overwhelming. I turned off my work email for 10 minutes and read this. I’ve heard some of it before when you last posted about action steps, but I needed to remind myself that I can tackle that big monster to-do list. One step at a time. Wish I could make it to the March conference, but I’ll be in Colorado. Thank you again for the reminder, your words always come at the perfect time!

  18. ashley barnett

    I have a big list for the week and then a “win the day” sheet that I use each day. I write down the items that I know I can feasible accomplish and at the end of the day, it’s so satisfying to cross them off the big list AND to throw away the “win the day” post it! :) Having everything laid out in front of me makes me feel so much more at peace with all that I have to do!

  19. Modupe

    Thank you so much for this Lara. I’m currently paralysed from overwhelm and of course feel even more overwhelmed because during my paralysis, the to-do list has just grown a mile longer. And because ive not been asleep due to the clutter, im now too exhausted to do anything productive.

    I will try your method. Im desperate and it seems doable.

    Wish I’d seen this post earlier to have been in with a chance to win a private session with you. I sure need it!

    Blessings

  20. Modupe

    LOVE the new site by the way.

  21. Kristy DeGraaf

    Woot! Doing this NOW!

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