Should You Ditch Your To-Do List?

business couples counseling fix this next for healthcare providers ftn for healthcare providers healthcare hierarchy of needs hhn overwhelm to-do list Jun 17, 2021
Business owners love a good to-do list, but often those list drive us to do and do and do until we are burnt out and exhausted. There must be a better way to find the most impactful thing to do for your business.

|By Tara Vossenkemper, Ph.D.

Have you ever felt confused by your business? Or by how to think about your business? Or what to do next within your business? A better question might be this: have you ever felt confused about where to focus within your business to get out of the overwhelm?

Let’s assume you’re similar to me in this regard. I thrive in chaos. Not noisy chaos because I don’t like that, but in conceptual, tasky, a-whole-lotta-shit-to-get-done chaos. That’s my calm. It’s chaos, technically, but it’s also calm because it’s simple

When I’m surrounded by way too much to do and in a specified amount of time, I’m basically forced to focus on the tasks at hand and am given built-in deadlines because each task typically needs to be done by a certain time. And being forced to focus on a lot of things to get done means that I don’t have to think about what to do, I just have to do. I like doing. I like feeling productive. I like being busy. 

Until I don’t. 

What happens for me, eventually, is that I feel burned out and bored out of my mind with the tasks at hand. I’m driven at first, and then I’m over it. I get tired, restless, and bored with all the things to do, and I want to pull my hair out and abandon my duties, but I can’t because, ya’ know, I’ve got a business to run.

Now, what neuroscience has to say about this, I have no idea. My suspicion would be that it’s not actually helpful and that we’re not as good at getting things done well when we’re in this state and that a deep work state is better for your mind and your business (see Cal Newport’s work - he’s my favorite). 

What Tarascience has to say about this is that it isn’t good in the grand scheme of things, but it worked for me for a long time and I didn’t have an alternative. Key point here, folks.

Why do we constantly overwhelm ourselves with work?

Let’s look at the function of this behavior. I can only speak for myself, but a major part of the function of doing this - compiling giant lists, feeling unsure of what to do with them and where to focus, and then being forced to really focus based on looming deadlines - was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things to do and not having a clear cut way to organize my focus. 

What we need is an ability to focus on the big picture without immediately getting bogged down in details and tasks. We need a way of looking at what we’re doing without getting caught up in it.

Running a business isn’t just about doing the ‘things’ to run the business. Yes, that’s a huge part of the process, but it’s not all of it. There’s an entirely different component, which is the meta running of the business. It’s thinking about how the business is being run. It’s all things you’ve read about in those business books - working on the business and not in the business, shifting into your visionary role, moving from technician to business owner.

What actually ends up happening is that we feel like we’re doing something ‘wrong’ when we try to work on the big picture for our business and not spend time on the tasks. We feel like others have it figured out and that we’re ‘missing’ something (what that something is, nobody knows, but we don’t talk about it [first rule of business ownership]). We feel confused about how to organize our thought processes related to the business, and we’re unsure of what to change to make the biggest impact.

Be like a plane — make a little change to have a big impact.

Do y’all know I specialize in couples counseling? That’s my clinical specialty. Toxic conflict (excessive or nonexistent), on the brink of divorce, intense couples. I love them. There’s a process that they go through, also - almost like a trajectory within couples counseling. I won’t get into those details because that’s not the point of this blog, but what I will share is a frequent conversation that I have with them. 

At some point in our work together, we end up talking about the most minor adjustment(s) they can make at the earliest moment in an interaction that has the biggest impact on the trajectory of that and subsequent interactions. This is especially helpful when we’re processing conflict. Folks tend to get stuck on the details that don’t matter, like who said what specifically, but what we really want to do is isolate the smallest variable possible that we haven’t even really thought about as a variable, and then modify that. Think about planes - a one-degree difference in flight trajectory can equal hundreds of miles off-course by the end of the trip (depending on the length of the trip, of course). It’s the exact same for couples and for business — stay with me here.

For example, if I ask a question and I have a tone (maybe I just got off the phone with somebody and didn’t have a great conversation) and that tone is perceived as accusatory, then the listener will likely unconsciously shift into defensive mode and probably counterattack or shut down. If they counterattack, then I feel confused and hurt and angry because they’ve just lashed out at me for no apparent reason, so then I respond in kind. If they shut down, I might feel confused and hurt and guilty without understanding why. Then I think that they’re the problem. And then this just keeps cycling until it’s a week later and we’re livid with each other with no real understanding as to why. 

In this case, the reality is that it was a series of missteps, unspoken assumptions, and feelings left unshared. Additionally, my tone was part of the process and, had I noticed or had my partner brought it up, we could have stopped the negative process from unfolding entirely. Beyond that, I could have addressed my partner’s response and been curious and concerned instead of acting in kind.

The smallest possible moment was in the very beginning, before feelings were intense, before both of us were hurt, confused, and angry, and before things were so complicated and multi-layered that neither of us knew which way was up or down. The most realistic minor adjustment at the earliest possible time.
*For the record, there are many small moments that occur early on - this is just an example that, honestly, doesn’t do couples work justice.

We need the same conceptual ability with our business. 

We need to have a way of isolating and pinpointing small moments that have the potential to make big impacts down the line (both immediate and long-term). It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway - there is not just one thing for you to change. There are multiple. So it’s not about getting it exactly right each and every time. It’s more about doing something with the intention of little change, big impact. 

Now let me bring this all the way back home.

This is what the Healthcare Hierarchy of Needs (HHN) can provide for you.

Having the Fix This Next for Healthcare Providers framework and the HHN assessment is that mental shift. 

It gives you an immediate pulse on your business without getting bogged down in details. It gives you an immediate focus for your next few weeks, if not months, and it helps you prioritize what’s most important in your business. And all of this is done without regard for your to-do list. 

Of course, that’s not to say that your to-do list isn’t important (of course it is!), but it’s always helpful for you to understand the big picture, what the problems are within your business, and/or where you want to steer that ship.

Instead of doggy paddling in the water without any understanding of where or why you’re moving in a certain direction, you’ll be able to feel grounded in working “on” the business, have a solid understanding of your big picture and what to focus on, and will rest easy knowing that you’re doing what’s needed for your stability, growth, and sanity.


Tara Vossenkemper, PhD, is the founder and owner of The Counseling Hub, an accidental group counseling practice in Columbia, Mo. Tara has since stepped into consulting in a more serious capacity, setting out to ensure that practice owners know both what they need to do and how to do it. Tara's favorite consulting-related topics center around tracking, culture, structure, and diagnosing core issues. 

Tara is known for her colorful language (#PuttingItNicely), love of The Office (#USVersion), neuroticism around dashboards (#FormulasAreLife), and hashtags (#AllDay). When she's not in the office, Tara can be found hanging out with her husband and two young sons, probably drinking a glass of red and wishing it was quiet enough to read.

Check out Tara’s professional bio and her practice, The Counseling Hub

Next Steps

Never Miss A Blog!

Subscribe for all the updates and never miss a blog again!

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information for any reason.