When people make a to-do list, they put so many unnecessary things that they forget what’s most important. They need to learn how to master being overwhelmed. They need to know how to prioritize their ones from the tens in their list. These people have to truly be honest with themselves, which is something most people struggle with.
Join Penny Zenker as she talks to Mark J. Silverman about his new book, Only 10s 2.0: Confront Your To-Do List, Transform Your Life. Learn how you can find your 10s on your to-do list. Don’t be afraid to cross off things. You don’t have to do everything this week or this month. Prioritize your life today with Penny and Mark.
Listen to the podcast here
Mastering To-Do List Overwhelm: Prioritizing Your 10’s With Mark J. Silverman
I’m excited because we are going to talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, which is overwhelm. I have got a lot going on. I’m sure a lot of you have a lot going on and because I talk about time management and different aspects of stress management. It doesn’t mean that I don’t experience it as well. We get good at finding out what works for us, and sometimes it works for us until it doesn’t, in case any of you have recognized that, and then sometimes we need new strategies to help us through different types of overwhelm and challenges.
I’m excited about what I can learn now as well. I’m excited to have Mark Silverman with us. He came to coaching after a successful career in technology. He and I are kindred spirits in a lot of different ways. I started in technology as well. He generated over $90 million for a fast-growing startup by bringing together executives, technical leaders and stakeholders to close complex multimillion-dollar sales.
He’s also the author of the bestselling book Only 10s 2.0: Confront Your To-Do List and Transform Your Life, and I’m sure he’s going to give us some tips from there and he sold over 75,000 copies. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a big deal. He is the host of Mastering Overwhelm podcast, so he knows this whole podcast thing well. He leads workshops internationally, helping CEOs and senior executives to focus on making sure the right work gets done in their organization. Without further ado, Mark, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I appreciate it. We are totally kindred spirits because I love what you said in the introduction. I am a time management guru and I get overwhelmed. When I started my workshops, I said, “I can’t keep you from getting into overwhelm. If you run a business, if you are trying to raise a family, if you are trying to stay fit and you are trying to keep your romantic partner interested in you, you are going to be overwhelmed. What I can help with is getting you out of overwhelm.” I love that you are human about this.
We have to get better at it and have the right practices. For those reading, it’s important because they might be reading this and go, “Mark, fix me. You will teach me everything I need to know about time management or blocking, and then you will fix me.” That’s unrealistic in terms of that, but we are going to get to some great tips that are going to support people so that they can put those into practice. Let’s start learning a little bit about you. What puts you into overwhelm? You’ve run some big businesses. You’ve sold a lot of books. What overwhelms you?
Everything. I think our greatest challenge is probably what turns into our greatest gift. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until in my 40s. We were having my son tested. The whole family got tested, so he wouldn’t feel singled out, and the psychiatrist says, “Do you know who’s off the charts?” I don’t even know how they function. I’m not pointing to my ex-wife. He said, “Dad, how do you even get anything done? You are so off the charts. How do you function?” I was surprised.
When I was 27, I was homeless, living in my truck. I came to Washington DC to borrow some money from my brother, 135 pounds, and a mess. Getting diagnosed later in life, after I got sober and became successful, I realized why it took me twice as long to get half as far. Why I had to work twice as hard to stay on task, and all those kinds of things, is because I had this thing going on with my brain. I was in overwhelm about everything. Going from homeless to being a millionaire with kids, wife, career, and all that stuff, I wasn’t equipped for that. Everything was big.
A lot changed too. That in itself is huge, and then all that goes along with each one of those.
Catching up with that, I always felt behind everybody else. The feeling of overwhelm, when I sit at my desk and my accountant says, “It’s time to pay your quarterly taxes,” and I have to figure out how to get in the website, where are my passwords and all of this stuff. The simplest things will bring up overwhelm. In order to have a not just a functioning life but to have a joyful life of ease and, lack of stress. Meditation, journaling, exercise, and eating right, all those things so that I can have that, but as far as my to-do list, that was a hard one for me. I was having trouble staying on task. You wrote a holistic book about time management. Most of the programs that people buy are systems.Your greatest challenge is probably what turns into your greatest gift. Click To Tweet
A top-down approach and I wouldn’t even call it time management, but yes, you are right, is that a lot of people are helping people with that tactical system.
The problem is they all work. I did David Allen’s Getting Things Done twice. I paid him $1,500 twice to sit in that room and lettering on my files, write everything down twice, read the book twice, and I still couldn’t keep track of anything.
You said something that is important for everybody to know. They all work. I want to talk a moment about that because they all work. They do all work if you implement it and if it’s right for you personally.
They are great. I love all those programs. As I have ADD, I’m a dopamine addict. I love a new program. I love to set up a new journal, a new thing, a new system, and all that. It’s keeping it going as the problem, and here was the dirty little secret I figured out. I didn’t have a time management problem. I had an honesty problem. I had a friend who called me and she’s an adult and running a business, and she finally got on some ADD meds. She says, “I took the meds and I still didn’t get anything done that I wanted to get done. I was intensely focused on Instagram.”
I said, “Here’s the problem with the meds. You have to decide what you are going to do. You have to point the ship before you take that pill. Otherwise, you are going to be intensely interested in Netflix.” I realized that I lied all the time. I lied about what I was willing to do, what I wanted to do, and what I was capable of doing.
I was a people pleaser. I was all things to all people. I dropped the ball all the time. I didn’t stay on my own priorities. I said I was going to do this on this day. I didn’t do it. Until there was a consequence, and then when there was a consequence. We talked about how I sold $90 million worth of stuff for different startups. I did all of that at the end of every quarter. I wasn’t the guy who was systematically closing. It was when, “Silverman, are you going to make your number this quarter?” I’m like, “Yeah, last week,” and I blow it through and I overachieved by it so much because I love the dopamine hit of being the savior of the game.
It’s that pressure. A lot of people who procrastinate talk about that they need that pressure to get it done in the last minute, and that’s the impetus for them.
For me, that was when the jig was up. That was when I realized I put a lot of stuff on my to-do list that I intended to do, but I never was committed to doing. I stopped and I realized that there were a few things that I did in life that were pretty monumental and they got done because I was committed to them. I started looking at what I was doing during the week. I realized what was BS on my to-do list.
I started to see that I would put something on there without the commitment to getting it done. There were things on my list that were placeholders. I’d like to get it done. There were things that I should do because it’s a good idea. There were things I’m going to do next week, but I don’t want to forget about it, so it’s on my to-do list. We start putting those things on the list. With ADD, everything screamed at me at the same volume. I couldn’t do A, B, C, big rocks, little rocks. It was all screaming at me.
I want reading people because they might be saying, “I don’t have ADD, so this isn’t for me.” I want people to be able to pull out those nuggets to be able to understand. I don’t mean any disrespect to people who have been diagnosed with ADD, but we are living in a state of distraction, and it’s almost as if we all have ADD that we are being pulled in so many different directions. I know it’s not the same. I don’t want to say it all.
It almost is, though, because I’m reading Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus, he talks about how it’s everywhere. We have changed. We have lost ten points in our IQ as a society because of this attention problem for everybody. Let’s go back to the reason the ADD was such a game-changer. I wrote this book for myself. I decided I was going to get a PhD in how to pay attention and get my stuff done. I’m going to learn this for myself, and this was in 2015. My coach was joking with me. He says, “I don’t know that it’s a book. It sounds like a pamphlet or a PDF or something.” I’m like, “I’m writing a book.”
I wrote this book and I thought my mother would buy it and I would buy it, but I would get a PhD in how to pay attention. I write this book and it sells 1,500 copies on the first day, then the next day and it’s selling. Coaches are calling me and saying, “I’m giving this book to my CEO clients.” “What do you mean? I didn’t even get a copy editor.”
It has spelling and grammar errors. Fifty thousand copies of this book go out with all these errors in it, but people are giving it to executives because it’s getting to the root of why we failed all these time management technologies. It is because we are not honest about what we are willing to do, what we are not going to do. Here’s the problem and challenge. Once we get honest and I do this in my Mastering Overwhelm workshop. I get a bunch of leadership teams in the room and I have them write everything down.
When we start to look at things on your list that don’t belong there, we start to see that there are what I call qualifiers on everything on your list, and that’s the reason behind why something’s on your list. Things are on your to-do list, not because of the thing itself. It’s because you are avoiding a consequence or you want to reward.
If you are a coach or speaker, you don’t feel like doing invoicing. Don’t want to do your invoicing. I don’t want to do my invoicing, but you want to get paid. I don’t want to pay my taxes. I don’t want the penalties. Everything has a qualifier. I have them start to look at what needs to be delegated. They start looking at all the things that are supposed to be delegated on their list. Great. Now we know we are supposed to delegate. The problem is all the resistance to why you would delegate. Let’s look underneath why these things aren’t being delegated. My people won’t do it as well as I would do it. It’ll come back with mistakes and I will have to fix it.
I can tell you that in my new book that I’m working on, I talk about how we are all control freaks, and at the very core is because we feel like we are losing control. By not doing anything about it, we are at that unhealthy level of control by not allowing ourselves to delegate the things that aren’t things that we should be doing is exactly what ends up controlling us.
I was coaching a CEO and he’s a new client. One of his problems and one of the things that came back in the 360 reviews was he has total control. He doesn’t delegate and empower. We talked about that and he’s like, “I need to delegate, empower, and coach. I need to do this.” I said, “You are going to have to let your people screw up.” He goes, “Yeah, but I have to make sure that they screw up on the right things and don’t screw up on the wrong things.”
He goes on a whole thing about how he’s going to do this, but he’s going to make sure, and I said, “We are going to take baby steps. You are going to let go of control of things that don’t seem to matter.” I got news for you. Just like they are going to fail at some things that you give them so that you can coach them on how to do it better.
You are going to fail at giving the right stuff up. You are going to give up control on something, and it’s going to blow up in your face. You need to understand that’s what’s going to happen in this coaching before we take another step because this whole letting go of control is terrifying.” That fear and there are certain personality types. It’s life and death. Letting go of control and making the mistakes goes to the core of a woot, where other people, they can make mistakes.Don't make a to-do list that you intend to do; do a to-do list that you commit to doing. Click To Tweet
Physcologically and biologically a need for us. It’s absolutely woven into our core.
Let’s go back to the to-do list. Now there are things on the to-do list that somebody asks you to do. You say, “I was the committee chair for the boy scouts. I was the basketball coach. I was all these things.” There are things that are on your list that you didn’t want to do and now you are like, “I shouldn’t be doing this. It shouldn’t be on my list.”
Now you have to go have that difficult conversation of setting a boundary or renegotiating something like, “I have something that’s due on Friday. I can’t get it done. I have my audiobook being read because it’s been years and I have not read my audiobooks. I finally hired it out because it’s never been a ten for me. It’s never been a commitment.”
I have read one chapter. I hated it. I hired it out and the guy said, “I will have it done for you on Wednesday.” This was last Monday. I said, “He’s going to be working pretty hard.” Wednesday comes and goes, nothing. Thursday, Friday, I sent him an email. I said, “Where’s my book?” He says, “No, I don’t hear anything.” Monday, “Where’s my book?” He goes, “I’m almost done. I need a little more time.” I said, “I’m fine. It’s been years. It can be a week. I don’t care. What I would like you to do is keep your word, and if you are not going to keep your word, tell me.”
He goes, “My wife tells me the same thing. She says I should say two weeks and then over-deliver.” I said, “Exactly. I don’t care. I expect it to take two weeks. It’s supposed to be done today.” The same thing with the things on your to-do list, but here’s the problem. Now we are going to learn how to have difficult conversations of delegating, setting boundaries, saying no, and renegotiating timelines. All these things to get out of overwhelm and get things off our to-do list.
The crap put in there in the first place if you had taken a step back and focused on what was most important and let go of the things that were less important. Readers, we create this overwhelm for ourselves, and so it’s time that when you feel that overwhelmed to say, “I need to change my approach because this isn’t working.”
It’s going up. You would go up river to figure out why you are overwhelming the systems in your business, but very few people go upstream to figure out why they are overwhelmed in their own life, and it’s because they have taken on too much. They haven’t triaged their to-do list. It’s hard enough to sit down on a Sunday night or a Monday morning and write down your list for the week. That’s hard enough. This harder part is to go, “What’s mine and what’s not?”
Tell us your key strategy because I want to make sure that people get it. What’s the key strategy for you that you would give us to triage that to-do list. Let’s say I have gotten to the point where I understand at the beginning of the week. I have to create my to-do list. How do I triage that?
The first thing I would have you do is write down everything you are supposed to do for the list. Let’s do a definition of a ten. For your audience, we are going to create a webpage specifically for your people. My clients won’t read books because they tend to have ADD too. I have to make little five-minute videos for them, for everything. We are going to give some of those to your people so that when they hear what I have to say, they can go back and relearn it. The first thing that you do is write down everything down on your list. You put everything there.
Is that everything that I have to do this week or is that everything that’s in my head? David Allen is everything that’s in your head.
I have everybody do the David Allen thing, everything in your head.
Something I have to do in three weeks where it’s not 2 to 3 weeks out, but I’m going to put out things.
That’s the start. That’s the first time. The first time is to dump it all out because now we have got to triage everything that’s driving you crazy. Let’s do the definition of a ten. The definition is it has to be done. If you get run over by a bus, it still has to be done. It has to be done by you, and it has to be done by you now. If you are doing your week’s list, it has to be done by you this week.
Here’s the caveat. You have the juice to do it. Like you think of a business idea or you think of a customer to call or something. You should act on those impulses. More and more, we should be getting in touch with our impulses for our businesses and for our lives. I should call my grandmother or I should check on this customer. I have been thinking about him all week. I should check on this customer.
Put that on the list or leave yourself time for those things that come up.
Put it on the list. I haven’t heard from this client in three weeks and they are up for renewal. Put it on the list because your intuition is starting to come up. Go through your list and everything that’s a ten has to be done. It has to be done by you, has to be done by you this week, or you have so much juice to do it that you should honor that. Do that. Now you go and you look at everything else on your list. What I do is I have them label it 1 through 10. You have your tens. Everything from nine down is going to get crossed off your list.
Here’s what people are saying is, “Those things have to get done too.”
That’s the confront. Let’s look at some of those things. We start looking at those things that are tens, and we start looking at them and I say, “How many of those things are on your should have been done yesterday list? How many things are placeholders that you keep putting on your list, keep putting on your list and never get done? Do they really need to get done? You start to look at that.You should act and get in touch with your impulses for your business and for your life. Click To Tweet
Can I ask a question because I want people to understand? I come at it from my mindset and some of the ways that I do things. I want to understand where you are coming from. Is this an it has to be done today? Is this an urgency list of what has to be done today?
I’m sorry for being confusing. Let’s say this is Sunday night and we are doing the week.
I’m asking that because what if there’s something that has to be done next week, but it is very strategic to the growth of my business. It doesn’t have to be done now, but it has to be done.
Let me go through it and then ask your questions. We are going to take the things that are tens and we put ten next to it. We take the things that are 2s, 3s, and things like that and we start to look at them. It’s a two this week. It’s a ten next week. We take that and we put it on the calendar for next week.
Now you wait for each one.
It has to get off the list for this week. What happens is people start looking at stuff and going, “I’m never going to do this. This was already done.” Then you start to look at what needs to be delegated. This action item should be delegated to such and such a person. Your action item no longer is the thing. Your action item is to delegate this.
You are going to have to confront why you wouldn’t delegate all that stuff because that’s where all the juice comes in. Now you look at stuff that are 8s and 9s and there are 8s and 9s on there and they are shoulds to a great idea. I should do this. Those are usually the things that get on the list and stay on the list because you should do, and you are not committed to doing them and you are never going to do it. This is where I get pushback, but I make my clients cross that off. Get rid of it, and they start to get a little bit panicky. Most people get ahead of me when I have them do this and they go, “My list is down to 6 or 7 things for the week than 10s.
Then say, “I’m good. Let’s leave these on there.” Is that what they say?
No. Then I say, “Great.” What I’m trying to get you to do for the week, and then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning, was to wake up. I only want you to see your tens. You can have other things but only see your tens, and usually, there are 2, maybe 3 or 4 tens for a day. This is the big rocks, little rocks. This is the deep work thing. This is everything everybody’s talking about. It’s focus on the important and the impactful and all that, but this is the psychological way to get to it is these are the only things.
If I die today, I want these things done. If I go to bed at 11:00 and I wake up and go, “I didn’t get this done.” I get out of bed and I do it because now I’m learning to keep my word to myself. I said this was a ten. I said I was committed to doing this, and that was the thing. I had to train myself to keep my word to myself. One of the things I put on my list every morning was the gym. What I noticed after a week was if I got up and went to the gym at 5:30 in the morning like I usually did, I went to the gym. If I didn’t and I said I was going to go at 3:00. I never went. If I got up and I missed the gym, I didn’t keep it on my list that I’m going to get to the gym at 3:00 because I know I lied to myself and I cross it off.
Some other psychological things to that that there’s a certain time of the day, that certain things need to get done when you know that they are not going to get done later. The gym is a perfect example for a lot of people. It’s not that they are lying to themselves, but their day gets ahead of them. You have to know when the right time is to do different tasks to make sure that they get done.
For me, writing copy is always going to be in the morning, also.
The accountability as well.
The hard thing to realize is when you cross some of these things off. If they want to be a ten, they will come back. When we go through this whole process, and again, there’s a five-minute video that you can watch me go along and see it’s much easier with the visual to do it. When you do this, now you find you have another problem.
I have to have the difficult conversations to get these things off my list. I have to go set a boundary. I have to go tell someone, “Do you know that thing I said I was going to get you done by Wednesday? I’m not going to be able to get that done until next week. I know I said I would do it. Is it a problem if I extend that thing?” If you are going to your boss, sometimes you are going to your boss and you are saying, “We are overextended on this project. Can you help me prioritize which we are going to do?” Now you are having conversations.
The reason that it’s so much easier to be busy is because we don’t want to have those sweaty palm conversations with people to get those things off our list. One of the biggest reasons to not delegate is because leaders don’t want to have those coaching conversations. It’s so much easier to get the work done than to have the coaching conversations of delegating, having a comeback, coaching them to do it better, having them come back, coaching it to do it better.
Three weeks from now, you will now have a new leader who does something at the level that you want them to have it. Where you would have in the past, stayed up until 12:00 at night, getting it done yourself. Those extra miles are the things that are going to downstream help your overwhelm, because then you are how you are going to have people on your team who do the level of work that you do.
We are running at a time here and I want to ask you a couple of last questions. Your major strategy is for people to get some awareness, write everything down and then pick out their ten so that they pick out the things that are the most important. Then this is the strategy in order to accomplish that. Take all of those other things off so that you only have on your list those things that are the highest priority to you that you’re committed to getting done. That way, you can work from that and you can de-commit or ask clarifying questions and everything with the rest of your list.Productivity is keeping your word to yourself and doing the things that you said you wanted to accomplish. Click To Tweet
You can still do some of those other things.
If it says he has two lists. He has that list of the top three things that he must be done by him today. He then has the fail-over list of when he has extra time and then he can go to those other things that are also ranked. We need to have more than one list. We have the shortlist and then we have the other list. I asked almost every guest this question. I’m curious as to how you would answer it. How do you define productivity and why?
That’s changed. For me, productivity is keeping your word to yourself and doing the things that you said you wanted to accomplish.
There are a lot of people out there that we talked about systems. What types of tools outside of this list? What are your top two tools? If everything was taken off your desktop and your phone, outside of the calendar and those things, what are the top two tools that you put back on because they help you to be more focused and more productive?
I can’t live without a whiteboard. Keeping lists on electronic devices doesn’t work for me. I need paper. I have to have my tens up on a whiteboard where I can see them. I do my brainstorming. Everything happens on a whiteboard.
Do you have a cool whiteboarding program that you use?
No. Just markers and stand in the middle of my office with my brain shooting off all kinds of ideas and we are there.
There are tools like Miro and things like that are available online, so you can collaborate these lists too with people. Something for people who are reading, there are some great collaboration tools that give you that whiteboard functionality as well.
It’s interesting when it comes to tools like my assistant set up a whole Trello thing for me and all this stuff. I’m like, “I’m never going to look at it. You have to send a list of things you are waiting for every single day. That part of your job is to send me a list of things you are waiting for every day. I don’t care. Just send me a list. I’m not thinking about it because I will never get to it.
That’s important for people to understand. I help people to see that there are a lot of different tools, but we have to decide which tools work best for our personality type. Somebody will send me an Excel sheet that’s all colored up and everything like that and I feel overwhelmed looking at it, and I’m like, “I’m done with this.”
I feel that way sometimes, too, about these Trello lists. I don’t know why but I like my list in a different way, so I totally get it. I like to see everything on one page, so whiteboards and paper are still something that I do too. Everybody has to see what works best for them and that’s to identify what works and what doesn’t work.
When we take our businesses and our lives to a new level, that might change because we have a different level of demands that are coming at us, we may find that some of the tools and techniques that we used in the past get us to a certain level, but then we hit a plateau. We need to build new skills, find new tools or something like that.
The second tool is a toss-up between my journal. Being able to write and journal and my meditation cushion because this takes presence of mind. It takes you being able to understand yourself and to be honest with yourself. What are you willing to do? What are you not willing to do, and then what are you willing to do to be able to get those things off your list? Sometimes you have a volatile person you are working with and the ten is avoiding the conflict. You can’t delegate to this
You are saying the unwritten ten.
No. The absolute ten is I don’t want to have a conflict with that person. It should be delegated to them. I don’t have the authority to make it. I don’t want to deal with the fallout. Now which way you got to put your big boy and big girl pants on and say, “I’m no longer a victim of this. I’m choosing to do this because I don’t want the conflict.” Be honest with like, “I don’t want to deal with that.” It’s interesting, but you have to learn who you are in order to be able to slow down and get the right things done.
Thank you for sharing your technique. Is there anything you wanted to share with us before we close the show that I didn’t ask?
No. I watched a video. There’s a young lady who does this whole ADHD channel, tools and strategies to deal with it. I sent it to a couple of people to notice how kind she was to herself. She’s so loving, kind, and gentle with herself as she’s learning new strategies, as she’s doing this. The world is pretty nasty these days to deal with. If you are not going to be kind to yourself, start there. That’s my message.
Thanks, Mark. I appreciate it. Tell us what’s the best site to reach you.
MarkJSilverman.com, and then the link for your resources is going to be a separate one.
Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you all for being here. You know that you have challenges with overwhelm and the question is, is it in your to-do list? What is it that’s creating that overwhelm for you and your life? The first thing that Mark talks about and that anybody talks about is getting clarity on that awareness of what it is. This is a way to work through your to-do list. If this method doesn’t work for you, check out his materials. You don’t know until you look at it. If this does not, find another one. If you are feeling that overwhelmed, find a process because they all work. It’s a matter of which one works best for you.
Thank you all for being here. Please subscribe. I’m looking to get people to follow more formally because I’m going to be making some changes in the show. I’m going to be doing some additional smaller segments where I’m going to be sharing some tips and tricks. I want you to make sure that you get updated on all the things that are happening around the show and what’s coming up in the future. We’ll see you in the next episode.
- Mark Silverman
- Only 10s 2.0: Confront Your To-Do List and Transform Your Life
- Mastering Overwhelm
- Getting Things Done
- Stolen Focus
About Mark J. Silverman