I was chatting with a friend a little while back. He’s a final year medic at Cambridge, goes to the gym like every day, is pretty ripped, plays rugby for the university first team, and is working towards becoming an orthopaedic surgeon in the US. We were discussing techniques and mindsets we've found helpful in getting a lot of stuff done in our spare time.

He came up with an interesting theory. It went along these lines:

We all have a list of things we need to do. There are two ways we can approach this. (A) We can view our to-do list as items in front of us, items that we tackle one at a time head on. Or (B) we can view our to-do lists as burdens that we're carrying on our shoulders, weighing us down as we go about our day.

Those who tackle their problems (and by problems, we mean stuff like exams, work etc) approach them with optimism and purpose. They think “right, I’m going to do some revision today for my exams, then I’m going to hit the gym, then get home to eat, bash out some more revision and get to sleep by 11pm”. They know what they have to do, and are tackling it head on.

The other types of people have the same stuff to do, but they’re bearing their problems on their shoulders. They think “arghhh I’ve got so much work I need to do, how am I going to find the time, I’ve got exams coming up next week and I feel like I know nothing, there’s no way I’ll have time to go to the gym today…”

We've all probably been both sorts of people at various points in our lives. I certainly have. Some days I wake up feeling energised and optimistic, and get so much done. Other days, I wake up and have that sinking feeling that I've got a lot of things to do that day. The difference between these two versions of myself isn't the number of items on the to-do list, it's simply the way I choose to approach them.

Since this discussion with my friend, I've started to actively think about my to-do list as items in front of me, rather than items I'm carrying on my shoulders. This simple change (when I remember to do it) makes me more productive, and I feel more in control of my to-do list rather than feeling like I'm drowning in it.

Thought I'd share this in case anyone else finds it useful.
Have a great week!

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