Emily Dickinson said, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things.”
This was a quote in my calendar last week. Along with the quote came the advice, or shall I say challenge, to live by the One-Minute Rule which is basically that if you notice a task that takes less than one minute to complete, do it right then. By doing the little tasks we usually put off, we can effortlessly reduce the length of our to-do lists.
I’m not convinced.
Perhaps it all comes down to the definition of a to-do-list. Yes, I have one. But most of the tasks on my list take longer than a minute to complete because they are action items that are directly related to my goals (both long and short term). And, my goals are directly related to my plan for turning my dreams for the future into my reality.
I could come up with one-minute tasks all day long that wouldn’t get me one inch closer to achieving what I really want in life and definitely wouldn’t get me where I wanted to be at the end of the day. Those one-minute tasks are “squirrels” or distractions in my world. I could argue that if you continue to focus on these distractions instead of tasks that move you closer to your goals, you’re really just procrastinating. Think about that for a minute.
Dickinson’s quote, to me, isn’t about to-do lists with a bunch of one-minute tasks. Instead, it’s a way to break down your goals into manageable action items — stepping stones if you will — you can do every day. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other. It’s about moving forward deliberately and purposefully. When you do that, I believe you are paying attention to the small things as Dickinson said. And, there’s beauty in doing it that way. When you break down your big, badass goals into smaller tasks, action items, to-do lists, squirrels for the day or whatever you want to call them, you’re really moving yourself closer and closer to your goals. Ultimately, the big things will take care of themselves. And, you will have done that without feeling overwhelmed, without procrastinating and without quitting.
So, what does my to-do list look like? Well, it’s safe to say it doesn’t have squirrels on it. I rely on my paper (yes, paper) planner where I’ve mapped out my week with my priorities for each day. That’s my to-do list. I’m flexible, though, so when I do see something that needs to be done, I can turn my attention to that particular squirrel. My calendar, however, always brings me back to the reality of what I fully intended to accomplish that day and that week.
Only so many squirrels are allowed to take me away from the tasks I’ve declared most important for the day. It’s how I stay focused and in action, on target and according to my timeline. That’s how I control the little things.
What about you? How many squirrels do you have in your life and what will you do to control them?