As my faithful readers know, I am huge on productivity. I maintain a to-do list to manage my everyday tasks as well as manage all personal projects. I’ve done this just about my entire adult life.
As you also may recall, I’m also passionate about maintaining a morning routine. This one has evolved quite a bit. The only constant has been coffee. But the things before, during, and after that coffee has changed over the years.
But over the last few years, there have been a set of items that remains at the top of my to-do list. Regardless of the software used and how I sort things, they are always at the top. And unlike the rest of my list, they don’t get checked off until the end of the day. So they are always right there to remind me of the things I need to do. They are part of my morning routine. They are part of my all-day routine.
That list has also evolved. I think it started with three things. I added the fourth not too long after that. It just jumped to five. Following are the five things that are always at the top of my to-do list, all day, every day.
Stop. Think. Be Kind. Do the Right Thing. Be Intentional
This is the newest addition to my list. Stop. Just stop. Stop doing the things that cause you harm or hurt others. That’s part of it. But it’s also much simpler than that. Stop. In the most authentic, most basic sense of the word. Stop.
I tend to charge through my day and life, like a bull in a china shop. Full tilt, all out, and jumping from one thing to the next. I’ve been that way my whole life. When I was a child, I never walked. Ever. I ran everywhere I went. Down the hall or to the mall, I ran. I didn’t understand walking. If the goal is to get from here to there, wouldn’t you want to minimize the time it takes?
But, since I’ve retired, I’ve finally realized I don’t need to move that fast. I can take my time. I can stop. Breathe. Look around and enjoy life. I probably won’t stop and smell the roses, but at least I can stop and look at them.
As I finish each thing, I need to take some time to reflect on what I just did. I need to stop. Before I move forward again, just stop.
And mostly, I needed to add this one because when I stop, I can take the time to do the next thing on my list.
Think about what I am doing. Think about what I have done. Think about what I should have done and should be doing next. Reflect. Ponder.
My wife retired from IBM. She was always bringing IBM stuff home. Pens, t-shirts, all manner of stuff with that famous blue logo on it. But my favorite, from way before they had a laptop, was a little brown leather notepad. It went everywhere with me. I kept a box of refills for it always because it got used pretty quickly. On the cover was stamped one word, Think. It was the original Think Pad.
And it always gave me pause every time I took it out. To make a new note or read an old one. Before I opened the cover, there it was. Think.
Stopping and thinking are two things I never used to do much of. I did what I wanted when I wanted to do it and said whatever popped into my head. But I find now that neither of those courses of action is usually the best one. Because before I do anything, before I say anything, I need to do something else first.
I just wrote an article about this guy I met recently. He was a bit of an odd duck, but as I got to know him better, I realized he was the epitome of one attribute that is hard to find in today’s world. He is kind. He is a kind man. His days are filled with acts of kindness.
So, I decided I wanted to be more like him. Acts of kindness. There are few things better. But I need this reminder on my list. Because it’s the little things that matter.
I don’t have a problem with big acts of kindness. I will always stop and help someone in need. I will give things that I have too much of to those who don’t have enough.
But being kind is more than that. It’s being kind in the little ways. Being kind with the things I do all day. And more important, being kind with the words I use. So, this needed to be on my list. And it’s in the exact right spot.
Stop. Think. Be Kind.
Do the Right Thing
This one is both easier and harder than the others. Do the right thing. What does that mean? It’s simple, and yet, sometimes elusive. What is the right thing? Why is it the right thing? How do you get to the right thing?
Simple. Stop. Think. Be Kind.
We are faced with choices all day, every day. It amazes me the processing power of our brains. How we can make these thousands of options that come at us at a rate we don’t even realize. But, if we stop and think, we always, always, know what the right thing is.
We may not want to hear about it. We may not want to do it. But we always know what it is.
So, I needed that reminder on my list. Giving any choice, large or small, do the right thing. Sometimes it’s not easy, frequently it isn’t fun, and quite often, it’s not what I want to do.
But here’s the thing. When you do the right thing, you know it immediately. And I can’t recall a single instance where doing the right thing caused me any regrets.
This was the fourth thing on my all-day list. It’s sort of a natural result of the other things, but I realized I need to put it in there anyway. I wrote about it recently, but even with all that stopping and thinking, I still needed one more step. Be intentional.
Don’t just bounce along day to day and minute to minute. Don’t go with the flow. The flow will take you where it wants to. I need to go where I want to. Where I need to and where I should go.
There is a park nearby with a long, meandering trail through the woods and marsh. It is mostly a boardwalk with a railing to keep you out of the muck. I take long walks on it. At least, I do now.
When I started going there, I put my camera around my neck, I plugged my earbuds into my phone with some music playing, and I opened the book app. I would walk along for an hour or more, listening to music, reading my book, glancing at the forest around me, and stopping to take a picture if something caught my eye.
Then, one day, I didn’t do that. I left the camera in my car. I left the earbuds and phone in my pocket. I took a walk. Intentionally. I felt the breeze and heard the birds. I could listen to the rustling of animals large and small in the forest and the wind rustling the leaves and marsh grasses. I could hear frogs and turtles jumping into the water at my passing.
But being intentional isn’t just about the big things. It’s about every step, every action. Don’t wad up that piece of paper and toss it over your shoulder toward the trash can. Wad it up, turn, place it in the basket. It’s two seconds instead of one, but it gets the job done. Intentionally.
If you are doing a thing, do that thing. Be intentional. Pay attention. Give it your focus. Everything will be done better and, eventually, faster. If only you always do that one thing.
Now, I’ve written the rough draft of this article. I can go to my task list and check it off. Go on to the next thing, whatever that is. But before I do, my eyes will scan that thing that is always at the top of my list.
Stop. Think. Be Kind. Do the Right Thing. Be Intentional