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I was clenching my teeth again. I know when I’ve been doing it because I’ll yawn and my jaw will go POP! If that’s too much information for a first sentence I’ll just give you the gist of what this is all about now: I stumbled upon one of those little mental tricks, or hacks, that’s helped me find some extra balance. I’m going to tell you what it is.

But first let me ask: Do you ever put everything you have to do and everything you want to do on a mental carousel and get dizzy watching it go round and round? I just realized while writing this that people only get dizzy watching a carousel spin, not riding one.

If you ask me what I do for work I’ll tell you that I spin plates. Sometimes there are more plates, sometimes less. Sometimes the plates are on fire. Much of my daily attention span is used up moving from one project (or plate) to the next. Scheduling meetings, attending meetings, following up on meetings. Most of professional plate spinning is just reassuring other people that their plates are going to be ok. I’m pretty good at that part. Sometimes I can even convince myself.

Anyway, once I notice I’m clenching my teeth involuntarily I know I’m doing too much. No, scratch that. I’m thinking too much. I’m watching the carousel spin, timing my entry point, popping my jaw.

Last week I was listening to a podcast as I often do while procrastinating. I’ll give credit to the speaker* and her book at the end. She was talking about habits or some other type of productivity porn. But she said, “change your language from ‘I have to,’ to ‘I get to.’”

My eyes rolled. “Yeah, groundbreaking stuff…” But later that day I ran into a friend. He said, “Dude, man, bro! What’s up!? How you livin’?”

I wanted to ask him if he’d listen to my jaw pop, but we aren’t that close. So, I said, “Everything is great. There’s a lot of new stuff I GET to DO.”

And as Emeril, the TV chef would say, “BAM!” My perspective shifted. As I said it my jaw relaxed. My body felt lighter. The carousel slowed down.

That’s what I’ve doing since. Turing my to-do list into my I GET TO DO list. It’s not a magic bullet, not a cure-all. But the psychological shift has been much greater in comparison to how small and simple it is to use.

I’m still trying to incorporate it into a habit, which is why I’m telling you. That’s another trick: “When you teach something, you get to learn it twice.” That’s why I write so much. I have to learn things at least twice.

Ask yourself, “What do I GET to do today?”

See you on the carousel.

This is an excerpt from my weekly newsletter, The Temperature Check.

Author of ‘Productivity Is For Robots’ | Writing about freelance work, creativity, and human connection |

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