How Five Minutes Can Free Up and Focus Your Mind

AdVance Leadership » How Five Minutes Can Free Up and Focus Your Mind

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #056. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll utilize a 5-minute practice that will help you stress less and accomplish more.

1 Insight

Every leader has more to do than they can complete today. By identifying what tasks you could, should, must, and won’t accomplish, you will free yourself from the pressure to do more than you can.

We know you’ve been there. The endless to-do list, the mounting tasks, and the feeling that you’re juggling more balls than you can handle. It’s terrible to start the day feeling like you have more to do than you can possibly accomplish. It’s even worse to end the day feeling like you didn’t do enough. Yet, these feelings are normal for most leaders because you do have more to do than you can accomplish in a day. In truth, you have more to do than you can accomplish in a lifetime.

Walt Disney, who achieved incredible feats during his lifetime, passed away with an unfinished to-do list. Near the end of his life, Disney told people he wished he had 15 more years to live so that he could fulfill his unrealized dreams and ambitions.

This is the unfortunate reality for most leaders that we’ve met: like Disney, you will die with an unfinished to-do list.

Now that we’ve gotten the bad news out of the way, let’s look at some good news: you might not be able to complete every task, but you can choose which tasks you focus on. We utilize a simple practice that helps us differentiate between all the tasks that we could do today and which ones we will do.

This practice will free you from the constant pressure you put on yourself to do more than you can possibly do in one day. It will increase your leadership Capacity, one of the seven traits that solve 95% of leadership challenges. We call it Could/Should/Must/Won’t.

In this 5-minute exercise, you will identify:

  • All the tasks that you could do today.
  • The tasks that you feel like you should do today.
  • The three or fewer tasks that you must do today.
  • The remainder of the tasks that you won’t do today.

Let’s get started.


Grab a piece of paper or open a spreadsheet on your computer. Make four columns. In each column, write one of these words: Could, Should, Must, and Won’t.

Start with the Could column.


List out all the tasks that you could work on today.  Move all of the possible tasks out of your mind and on to paper. Writing these items down gets them out of your head so they don’t take up precious mental real estate.

When you’re finished, move to the Should column.


Look over your list in the Could column. Select the tasks that you feel like you should do today. Look for two types of tasks:

  1. The tasks that are actually due. Today is the real deadline to get these finished. Most tasks have imaginary deadlines that you’ve made up in your head. The first step in the Should category is to capture the tasks that others expect today and that would lead to consequences if left incomplete.
  2. The tasks that you feel psychological pressure to complete today. You feel like you really should do these today. This category covers those imaginary deadlines.

Move those tasks from the Could list to the Should list.

Now, move to the Must list.


Look over your list in the Should column. Select no more than three tasks that you must complete today. It doesn’t have to be three. It could one or two. But do not select more than three tasks.

By having three or fewer “Must tasks,” you:

  • Significantly increase the likelihood of accomplishing them.
  • Remove the psychological pressure to do all of the tasks.
  • Establish that doing these three tasks will help you succeed today.

If you’re fortunate enough to complete those three tasks, you can tackle tasks from the Should list.

Here’s one other hint: You can increase the likelihood of completing those tasks even more if you do one more step: block a time on your calendar to complete each task.

Now, move to the Won’t list.


In this final column, identify  the tasks that you won’t do today. By writing these down, you intentionally choose to say “no” to some items on your Could and Should lists. Determining your Won’t tasks declutters your mental space and frees you from the pressure of taking action.

You will never be able to complete everything that you Could do. By using this method every day, you can ensure that you concentrate on what is most important.

1 Action

Block 5 minutes per day in your calendar for the next 30 days to practice Could/Should/Must/Won’t. See if it helps you stress less and accomplish more.


Want to help your company unleash its leaders?

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