BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

How to Do What You Need to Get Done

Man raising his arms in triumph on a boulder at sunset

What prevents you from doing what you need to get done?

I’m not talking about the big stuff, like achieving your lifelong dream; I’m talking about the everyday stuff, like returning that phone call at work or remembering to pick up a Mother’s Day card.

My guess is it’s not a lack of smarts or skill.

It’s a lack of fundamentals.

You hear sports coaches talk about this all the time. In the aftermath of a loss, they’ll explain their team’s poor performance wasn’t due to a talent deficiency, or even their opponent’s acumen, but a failure to stick to the basics, look after the details and do the little things right.

The same is true in real life.

You’re more than capable of doing everything on your to-do list.

Yet too often these tasks get set aside, put off or lost amid the chaos of your day-to-day. And before you know it, an innocent oversight has mushroomed into a complicated problem.

The good news, though, is you can avoid such stumbling blocks by following a maxim that’s as simple as the mistakes that spawn them:

Do it now, or write it down.

That’s what I’ve begun imploring myself to do whenever I’m charged with a new responsibility.

I either want to take care of it immediately, or make a note of it so I don’t forget to take care of it later.

For instance, just over three minutes into my meditation this morning, my phone rang. It was my wife. There were two avocados on our kitchen counter, and she didn’t want them to go bad. Could I put them in the refrigerator?

My first instinct was outdated, if not outright idiotic:

“No problem. I’ll do it in a bit, before I leave for work.”

I’d already disrupted my practice by answering the phone. And I didn’t want to disrupt it any further. The fulfillment of this request could wait.

This is a thought process that, if you’re not careful, can turn molehills into mountains.

For starters, at 39, my memory isn’t what it used to be.

I sometimes struggle to remember if I’ve turned on my car alarm in the four seconds it takes me to walk from the curb to our front door.

What chance would I have of remembering the avocados after meditating — which is designed to clear your mind — for an additional 17 minutes?

As comedian Adam Carolla would say, I’m not that good.

More importantly, why should I try to be?

Why should I unnecessarily assume that stress? Aren’t there better allocations of my brainpower? Why would I put more pressure on myself in what’s already a pressure-filled world?

Not that the apocalypse would’ve come had I failed to follow through. It wouldn’t have. My wife loves avocados — LOVES them — but had this pair turned rotten, she would’ve gotten over it. Quickly. Like any rational person would.

But in the larger context, this had nothing to do with a fruit’s life expectancy and everything to do with my dependability, if not my overall capabilities.

My wife had asked me to do something, and I needed to do it — not just for her, but for myself.

The way you handle the everyday stuff is the preparation that enables you to or hinders you from accomplishing the big stuff.

In sports coach’s parlance, you play how you practice.

So once I realized there was no pen and paper within reach, I got off the couch, walked to the kitchen and put the avocados in the refrigerator.

Then I finished my meditation in peace, with no burden to bear.

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