Eat Your Broccoli

Focus, balance, and your to-do list

By Randy Ingermanson

Over the last few months, I’ve gotten control over my insane To Do List. I described how I did that in February. The key element is to use a trusted system where all your tasks and projects are organized. If you know that your entire life is managed in one trusted system, you never have to worry about forgetting things.

Of course, once you have that trusted system in place, you need to categorize all tasks in two ways:

  1. How important is this task?
  2. How urgent is this task?

Life management experts are constantly harping on the need to focus on the Important, rather than the merely Urgent.  The Important things are the ones that make your life cool, fun, exciting, profitable, or all of the above.  The Urgent things are the ones that need to be done now, now, now.  Things that are both Important and Urgent are the things you should do first. Things that are neither Important or Urgent can be left for “maybe someday.” And yeah, those are probably never going to happen, so eventually you will quietly scratch them off your list because you just don’t care about them, and you don’t care that you don’t care. The trick is scheduling the things that are Important but not Urgent, and the things that are Urgent but not Important.

This year, my key word has been “Focus”. I’ve learned how to focus on the very few things in my life that are Important. And that’s good. That’s wonderful, in fact. I feel like I’m going great guns on the two things in my life that are both fun and profitable. Huge progress. Yippee.

The problem is that over the last few months, I got hyper-focused. Yeah, sure, I’ve made incredible progress on the Important stuff (which also happens to be the fun stuff). But I’ve started to let slide the merely Urgent stuff (which generally is the not-fun stuff.) As you can guess, this meant that the boring Urgent things in my life began piling up. I had them all neatly listed in my trusted system. I just wasn’t doing them. Because I was working on Important stuff.

That would all be fine, but there’s a reason these things are called Urgent. The more of them that stack up, the more stress you feel. I finally realized that Focus is all very well, but there can be too much of a good thing. So this month I’m working at keeping things balanced a bit better. The Urgent things in life are a bit like broccoli. You know you should do them. You just don’t want to.  (That’s not the case with Important things. Important things, by definition, are the things you really want to do. They’re either fun or profitable or both.) So that’s the diagnosis: I wasn’t “eating my broccoli.” What’s the solution?

I talked to my mastermind group about this, and we came with an action plan:

  1. I allocate time every day to “eat my broccoli”. Meaning I commit to spending a certain number of hours that day to doing things I hate doing. The rule is that every morning, the first task I do is assign the number of hours for these tasks. Then I have to spend that many hours working on them. (Breaks are allowed. As I noted last month, breaks are good for you. Very good. When doing these tasks, I’m allowed to take lots of breaks.)
  2. One of my friends in my mastermind group emails me every day to make sure I met my commitment for that day. (Thanks to Lacy for keeping me accountable.) I probably won’t need her help for very long. Pretty soon, “eating my broccoli” will be a habit. But right now, it’s good to have a virtual mom who makes sure I do.

As one way to take the sting out of “eating my broccoli,” I assigned this category a new name: “Total World Domination.” This is of course a brazen lie. These things don’t have anything to do with conquering the world. But it’s just a little easier to schedule one hour of “Total World Domination” than to schedule one hour of “Boring Stuff I Don’t Like Doing.” If you disagree, I’ll send you a cruise missile.


Answer these questions honestly:

  1. Are you keeping up with the “eating your broccoli” tasks in life?
  2. Did you lie when you answered #1?

If you need a little help in eating your broccoli, here are the three steps you can take to start moving in that direction.

  1. First thing every day, make a hard commitment to a certain amount of total time which you’ll spend knocking down your list of those horrible, boring, necessary things in your life.
  2. Never cheat. If you say you’re going to do 4 hours, then do 4 hours. By the way, starting out the first day committing to 4 hours is really dumb. I won’t tell you how I discovered this. Commit to something, but make it something you can achieve without feeling the urge to put your head under the lawn mower.
  3. Ask somebody to check up on you every day to see if you ate your broccoli.

Focus is good. Balance is better.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it,
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