You might not call yours the too-hard pile, but we all have one. Literally speaking, it’s where you put all the things you are putting off doing. Problems too hard to solve. Daunting work assignments. Annoying red tape. Social commitments. In the office of your brain, imagine that your too-hard pile is one of those wire inboxes sitting next to the file cabinet where everything you’re good at is neatly organized. Messy and filled with all the hard stuff, you are reminded of it every time you cruise over to your fancy file cabinet and grab a file filled with all your favorite things to do. Damn that too-hard pile.

Of course you plug away as best you can at the pile, all the while hoping for divine intervention. Maybe someone will sneak in and take stuff out of the pile. Maybe they’ll forget they asked me to do that. It’s raining hard, so that thing is probably canceled, right?

Recently, I realized the negative effect my too-hard pile was having on my life, so I did something about it. You can too. 

Get to the bottom of it


Get quiet and think, really think, about what you’re avoiding. This is not an exercise to do while multitasking; it requires focus and concentration. It may feel uncomfortable for a while, but stay with it. Be conscious of themes, trends and commonalities. Do the same people keep showing up attached to things you are putting off? Are there patterns? Make some general notes about what shows up for you as you pick through the things you’ve been avoiding.


Take a backward look at your calendar. Go back as far as a year, and make a note of your social and work commitments. How many of them did you miss? Why? Review your project and meeting notes from work. Are there action steps you didn’t take? Did you jot down a plan of action, but fail to follow it? Peruse your to-do list, looking for things you wrote down, but didn’t do. And, read through your journal. What personal goals did you pass over? Where are you letting yourself down? Write down everything you missed or put off. This list will tell you a lot about what you consider hard, or even too hard.


As with any 12-step program, you’ve got to get square with the people you let down. It’s actually not too late to write that thank-you note, even after all this time. Have the necessary face-to-face conversations to get clean and clear with anyone you may have disappointed, including yourself. In conducting this inventory of your too-hard pile, you’re likely to notice a few things that other people told you they would do for you, but didn’t. Take this opportunity to initiate a reparative conversation around letting go and moving on.


If you bought season tickets to the symphony last year, but only went to a few of the concerts, consider that you might not enjoy these events as much as you once did. If you’ve always considered yourself very social, yet lately you’ve been looking for a way out of commitments with people you don’t know well, maybe you really only like being with people inside your social circle. These sound like easy conclusions to draw, but you might be in a bit of denial about what you really enjoy doing.


Commit to less, if necessary. Own who you are and what you are best at. If you—like me—aren’t always great with the nitty-gritty details, look for ways to delegate or share responsibility for them. If you consistently say yes to more things than you can possibly do, realize that you probably have a problem saying no. And practice mindfulness around that. Spend time every week thinking about your too-hard pile, and actively work to keep it managed. Sometimes all it takes is an honest conversation to keep something from landing in your too-hard pile. Avoiding dealing with the situation, however, will never work.

Kari Olivier worked in various corporate marketing roles before migrating to the agency side. Kari is a writer, workshop facilitator, marketing strategist, and advisor to leaders at Fortune 500 companies and SMBs. She is co-founder of Jute Creative, a branding, marketing and communications agency in Portland, Oregon.

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Career development, Creative agency, Jute Creative, Organization, Personal development, Portland, Productivity, Thought leadership, Time management

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