The Last Item on Your List May Be the Most Important

In the middle of last week, I was going through my to-do list, which had suddenly ballooned out from about 10 items to well over 30. On our team, we use Asana, which is a great tool for staying organized with our to-dos, but it doesn’t make things less overwhelming. Sometimes, when I’m looking at the long list, it can be hard for me to decide what to do first.

Often times, tasks on my to-do list are little things that feel very important. But sometimes, I have to remind myself to take a step back and ask, “will this action take me one step closer toward achieving my primary goal?” If the answer is no, then that task is probably not as important as I had thought. For example, it would be great if I made certain edits and updates to our website, but is that nearly as important as reaching out to a contact who could become a potential client? Definitely not!

I know that this pattern that I occasionally fall into is not unique. In fact, we’ve seen it again and again with the artists we work with. It is so easy to become very busy and overwhelmed with an enormous list of things to do that feel important. Often times, these items may feel tedious or hard, and perhaps we’ve been procrastinating on them, but the truth is that they are “easy.” Usually, these are the tasks don’t require us to go out on a limb or to take a risk.

However, it is usually the risker tasks – like reaching out to a prospective client or calling a venue – that move us concretely toward our goals. In business, they call it sales or market testing – and its actually the most important part. If nobody wants to buy your product (because they don’t know that it exists), then who cares how perfect it is? Same with performers. You might play or sing flawlessly, but if you’re not taking the action necessary to get hired and heard (as in giving people a chance to say yes or no to you), you won’t be advancing in your profession.

Often times, we feel reluctant to put ourselves out there until everything is “perfect” – our website, our performance, all of it. This creates two problems. First of all, perfection is a fallacy – this is always room to improve. Second of all, by making the real, important action conditional on something else that must be perfected first, we delay the most important tasks – sometimes indefinitely. Regular delaying can have a significant impact on our willingness to take action at all.

Greg Kastelman, our mastermind Booking Coordinator at Cadenza Artists recently introduced all of us to a book called The One Thing. It’s a simple read but the message is profound. How do we cut through all the noise, all the distractions, and all the multitasking we usually do to discover our one true focus?

One of my favorite parts of the book is it’s suggestion that we replace our mile-long to do lists with a success list – a short list of tasks that directly correspond to the result we are looking to achieve. So for example, if you are looking to perform more, calling venues (ideally a specific number per day) should be on your success list. Updating your website or practicing for 6 hours to the exclusion of any other activities might not be.

That’s not to say that having an updated website or practicing regularly are not important – they certainly are! However, it is so important to keep sight of the bigger picture, the bigger goal – your one thing – and to check in regularly with yourself and your team to make sure the way you spend your time is directly leading to the realization of your ultimate goal.

Do you ever find yourself avoiding the important tasks on your success list because you’re focusing on other tasks? How do you get yourself to focus on what matters most?

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