How to Build A Life and Not Just A Lifetime of "To Do" Lists

Feeling productive is the best feeling.

Maybe it’s my deep immersion in American culture. Maybe it’s in my DNA - my entire family is full of workaholics.

Either way, nature or nurture, I’m a sucker for a good productivity app, tip, planner, or anything else that gives me the illusion I have everything under control.


I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog, or it’s been so long now that I’ve forgotten, but I got my first ulcer at 20. Yes, I worked so hard that I couldn’t celebrate being 21 because I basically worried/worked myself into the ground. WHO DOES THAT? College years are supposed to be for fun and partying and I basically turned myself into a 50-year-old man going through a midlife crisis.

Basically, I know how important it is to be productive, especially for us business owners, but I also learned my lesson with running myself into the ground.

People are always going to need things from you, and that just increases as time goes on and your business grows.

I’ve tried every single app out there, and while I have a pretty crazy but well-running productivity system, the biggest thing I would pass on to anyone is the importance of GUARDING YOUR PRIORITIES WITH YOUR LIFE.

The problem is, when you’re running a business, everything feels important.

Should I grow my Twitter following?
How can I grow my email newsletter?
I should have a product for sale, shouldn’t I?
How does Pinterest work?
Should I go to this networking event?
Did I forget to eat today?
Why am I not making 6 figures yet? All these other people did…

I have felt all these pressures and more in all these years of running my small little business while growing it to a point where it can support me and my family. Every year it gets better mainly due to these rules that took me forever to figure out.

Most people start their day with putting out fires, then do all the client work that’s necessary, then answer emails for far too long, scroll around on social media… Raise your hand if you’re guilty. I followed that schedule and I know how unproductive it is. So, here’s how I schedule my days/weeks so I can fit in the things that matter most:

1. What’s your biggest goal?

Listen, amongst all the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to forget what you actually want out of it. If your #1 goal is to write a book, this has to be first thing in your schedule - no debate. It doesn’t matter if you get up early or fit it in during your lunch hour, you CANNOT go to sleep until you work on this goal.

If you’re not careful, years will fly by and guess what? Nobody is going to force you to make time for the things that matter most. No one. You have to make time for it yourself.

My business is in copywriting (hello, this site), but my bigger overarching goal is to get into screenplay writing. I decided this years ago and one day I realized it had been years and I hadn’t even finished one screenplay. Business priorities took over and it was sent to the back-burner (sound familiar to your life, too?). It’s totally okay if your priorities in life shift and you no longer want a goal, but if you want it PLEASE make time for it.

2. What is your PQO?

I learned this one from Brandon Burchard in his book High Performance Habits. (A fantastic book, by the way.)

Your PQO is your prolific quality output, AKA the thing that actually matters most.

For authors, this means writing books. For singers, this means putting out albums. For bloggers, this means writing blogs.

This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to overlook the fundamental thing that matters most.

As he says in the book (I might have shortened the quotes in my notes, but you get the idea), “Figuring out what you are supposed to produce, and learning the priorities in the creation, quality, and frequency of that output, is one of the greatest breakthroughs you can have in your career.”

Although I am a copywriter, one year I realized I went almost THE WHOLE YEAR without writing copy. I got bogged down in marketing, writing blogs for clients, and other busy work. My skills were suffering and I had to get back into it because that’s the foundation of my work.

Look at your schedule and see how much time is actually dedicated to your PQO. If it’s not at least 50%, you need to adjust course.

You can have the most Twitter followers in the world but if you aren’t actually producing what you need to, it won’t matter.

3: Filling the pipeline

Before you get to any client work, I have found it’s essential to focus on marketing every day.

Through the years, I’ve had so many periods where I’m comfortable and doing a lot of work, so I put off marketing my business. (“I don’t need more work right now.” - me being dumb)

Then, a client gets sick. A business goes under. Something happens and now all of a sudden I NEED work.

Almost every business owner I’ve met has been in the same position. The way to prevent this is to fit in marketing every single day. Being in a position to have a waiting list is ten times better than the full-body panic that comes when you realize you can’t pay your bills if you don’t get more work starting yesterday.

4. Client work

Now you can fit in client work. At this point you should be around mid-morning and focusing fully on client work for a good chunk of this time. Put on your favorite background music or whatever helps you focus and get to it. Keeping your clients happy makes you get paid and increases your chances of referrals.

5. Your health

After focusing on client work for a few hours, I then switch gears and focus on my health.

Before I started my business, I worked as a personal trainer through college and I strongly believe that health and business are two sides of the same coin. Not taking care of their health was the #1 regret I saw in people who were 40+ years old.

When you’re healthy and feeling good, everything flows better. You can think clearly, your body isn’t aching as bad, and you sleep better. I know far too many people who had a heart attack or other health crisis that put everything in perspective while also keeping them out of work for months of not years. If you have a family, this is BEYOND IMPORTANT. That’s the end of my ranting on that topic (but if you want more, I do have a fitness site: here. Yes, I’m one of those people.)

6. Trying new things

This is when I fit in different ideas I’ve thought of implementing in my business but haven’t done yet. Maybe this means a new social network, Gary Vee’s $1.80 marketing strategy, networking on LinkedIn, or whatever new tactic it is, this is when I fit it in. It’s good to try new ideas, experiment, play around. This is what keeps business exciting instead of feeling like it’s the same routine every day.

For bonus points, actually track what you’re doing and the results. I could do a whole post on marketing ROI (and just leave a comment if you want that), but it’s amazing what results can happen from simply trying new things.


This is where everything else goes. Answering emails, filing paperwork, text messages, etc. If it’s not making you money, it needs to go here. This isn’t because you’re a mean business person, it’s because you know the health of your business makes everything else flow well.

There were a lot of years where I couldn’t have a life because my business wasn’t doing well. My priorities were all out of wack. I couldn’t help people close to me. I was working all the time without anything to show for it.

It feels strange to put yourself and your priorities first before the rest of the world, but there’s no way you can actually build your life and how you want it to look without doing so.

8. Walk away from it

Throughout your day and your week, actually make the time to walk away from your work. Be with your friends and family without thinking about all the things you need to do. Be present in the moment.

GET A HOBBY. I can’t stress how important hobbies are to your overall health and wellness.

Most of us got into business because we wanted the ability to do life on our own terms. If you’re not careful, you can quickly build a prison sentence that feels impossible to escape.

Don’t just chase your freedom, demand it.