Thinking Past Your To-Do List

by / ⠀Startup Advice / December 10, 2012

The first company I built was a mobile coupon application. This was early on in the mobile boom, less than a year after the release of the App Store. We were making the typical sales runs of getting businesses on the application, when one of the owners asked us to make an app for them. It was my first company and someone was offering us money. So hell yeah we did it.

We then went on to spend two months as underpaid developers to make this application for the business owner. At the end of the month, sure we had made a little money, but really had made no progress on our actual business.  We had hardly any downloads, and even fewer businesses with coupons on the app. We were so confused. How could we have spent that much time and gotten nowhere?

I will never forget the Sunday night I sat down and learned two important lessons that I still rely on in my professional life.

1. Avoid Comfort from To-Do Lists

It was the first realization that I had. Going into the unknown can be exceptionally intimidating and oftentimes frightening. For the first few months, since I didn’t yet really know what we were doing, or where we were headed, I was trying to make everything feel more comfortable. I did that by creating a to-do list for myself.

Accepting a job to create someone else’s application gave me familiarity and brought me into my comfort zone. We knew exactly what they wanted done, when they needed it, and how do it.  It all felt comfortable, which in this instance was mistaken for our business’s progress.

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I’m not bashing the use of a to-do list, I still use one every day. But what I realized is that you have to avoid creating or adding onto one, just to feel comfortable and artificially simulate progress. Remember to measure yourself on the results of your actions, and not the actions themselves.

2. Take a Power Hour

No, I’m not saying go back to the college dorm room days. I’m saying you need to take a strategy Power Hour (at least) once every week and strategize for the future. Put the to-do list out of sight and out of thought.

It took a Power Hour for me to step back and realize what was going on. I sat down one night and thought through what we were doing. We were actually wasting 95% of our time on non-important tasks for someone else’s business and someone else’s progress.

Every single week now, on Monday morning, I have a designated hour to focus on long-term strategies that can have a lasting impact on my company.  I don’t think about next week, or even next month. I think about 1 year from today. What can I do now that will make a positive impact on my company in one year?

Some of the best things that have come from this weekly hour for me include a newfound focus on content marketing, better social media strategies, and improved services to more effectively create compelling brands for our clients.

You’ll be surprised what you’ll realize and what you can come up with when you’re thinking past the daily emails and to-do lists.

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Although these two things have lead to some of the more frustrating realizations in my life, I can honestly say nothing else has more effectively pushed me in the right direction for my career and personal life.

Be brave enough to take the steps to feel a little uncomfortable. Avoid the coziness of a to-do list, and stay on the edge. Take the time to make sure the actions and steps you’re taking are pushing you in a direction, not blindly forwards. It’s going to payoff. I promise.

Joshua Johnson is the Director of External Relations at Digital Talent Agents, a leader in strategic professional brand growth based in Columbia, Missouri. Josh has launched three businesses in the past ranging from mobile gaming to social media management.

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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