How to Confront Your To-Do List to Transform Your Life with Executive Coach and Author, Mark J. Silverman

Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall and in this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast. I sat down with Mark J Silverman to talk about how you can confront your to-do list to transform your life. Now, let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. Mark is an executive coach, an author, and a podcast host. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to address the underlying behaviors and minds that sabotage all time management and productivity tools. And today, on the show, Mark is going to help you maximize where you shift and devote your attention. So you can be sure that you’re focusing on the right things and, Hey, the things that you want to focus on. So I hope that you get some great tips out of this. Enjoy this podcast as Mark, and I talk about confronting your to-do list and transforming your life.

Meet Mark J. Silverman, Executive Coach, Author and Podcast Host

Jenn DeWall:  Mark Silverman. It is so great to have you. I mean, we’re doing this podcast on a Monday, and we’re gonna be talking about how we can essentially transform our lives today. I’m just so happy to talk about your book. I’m so happy to get to know more about you and your style, but Mark, go ahead. Welcome to the show. And if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark Silverman:  Thank you. I love your energy. So getting, getting on a Zoom call with you is, is quite a bit of fun. Thank you. My origin story. So I have severe ADHD. I’m a drug addict, an alcoholic— pretty much a loser in life for the first part of my life. And so that’s, that’s the origin story. By the time I was 27, I was homeless, living in my truck, and 135 pounds. So when I come to success, when we talk about leadership, when I talk about time management, anything that I talk about, I view it through the lens of it’s all a foreign country to me, right? So when, when I, when, when, when I got sober, and I started going to college in, at 27, you know, and, and I, and I became really, really successful and had the million dollar house and the nice car and the family and the two kids. Living in an affluent neighborhood and being that guy was a completely foreign concept to me. So that’s why the lens is a little bit different.

When I became successful in high-tech sales, I worked for a few really cool startups. I made lots of money, which was, again, a weird thing to go from living in my truck to wearing Hugo boss suits. Yeah. But later on in life, when things started to fall apart, when I really didn’t do, you know, I was sober, but I didn’t do the internal work to grow up enough to be able to handle success, marriage, children, all that stuff. Stone cold sober that started to fall apart. I started to feel the stress of that midlife crisis kind of thing. You know, a decade and a half later really took me down. So stone-cold sober. My marriage fell apart. My health fell apart. I couldn’t sell anything. And so this, now I needed a second Renaissance. I needed to build myself back up again.

And again, what happened was I became successful because I was trying to prove that I wasn’t this homeless loser guy, right. So I bought a nice car, nice clothes, all that stuff. And I outworked everybody, and I just did everything I could to not be that guy, that motivation, though. It gets us to success. And every successful person, I, every uber-successful person, I know has some kind of dark secret that pushes them to that level. If you look at Michael Jordan or Elon Musk or any of these people, a lot of them are driven by, you know, a hole inside. And the success is celebrated, but there’s something else going on. So for me, that fell apart, and I put it back together.

I got myself healthy again, and my career took off again. But this time, I did it by listening to every self-help book, every spiritual book, listening to, you know, everything I possibly could in order to build back a new person. Right. So now, fast forward, I leave high-tech sales. I leave having a sales manager and having my numbers looked at by other people, right. You know, never, never underestimate the value of a sales manager, right? Like that someone that you’re a little scared of right now, every time your numbers go up on the board, you’re, you’re terrified of being at the bottom. Now I’m an entrepreneur. Now I’m my own boss. And I gotta tell you. I am an awful boss. The ADHD never left.

Jenn DeWall:  Entrepreneurship is hard! It’s so hard. <Laugh>.

Confronting Your To-Do List When You’re the Boss

Mark Silverman:  And nobody told me when I, when, when, when I was convinced to become a coach. I wasn’t looking to be a coach when I was convinced to be a coach by one of the authors that I was reading. You know, they talked about how, you know, you could have a six-figure business and, you know, meanwhile, I was taking care of my ex-wife, my kids, my elderly parents. Right. I was, I, you know, I was the financial hub of my family. So when I became a coach, I didn’t realize that mastering coaching is one thing— mastering entrepreneurship, mastering business— was another. So that was an eye-opener to me. So for me to sit down at my desk, the world is my oyster. I have the entire day to create and do things right. The laundry got done. <Laugh> the house got clean. The dogs got played with. Right, right. So YouTube videos got watched. And so, I was really at a loss of how I could keep myself on track. So the original book was called Using Distractions to Get the Right Things Done because it was about me learning entrepreneurship and self-leadership with ADD. The subsequent title is Confront Your To-Do List, Transform Your Life because I rewrote it five years later.

We updated it because when I wrote it, I wrote it for me. I needed a PhD in how to get things done when the whole world wanted my attention. So I wrote the book for myself and possibly my mother. Maybe one or two other people would buy the book. I had a couple of friends < Laugh> when I wrote the book. Originally a thousand copies went out the door. I think it was 1500 copies. Went out the door the first day. Then 1500 the next day. Right? So We had 75,000 copies and counting. So people resonated with this book. Friends of mine and coaches would say they give it to their CEO clients. So now this new updated version is, is, you know, for me the business book that I wanted to write, but here’s the crux of it.

What I figured out was I always do what I wanna do, and I don’t do what I don’t wanna do. Only ever. We can pretend that we wanna do things, but usually, what we’re doing is we’re avoiding a consequence, or we’re looking for a reward. And when I saw that— when I saw that, if I really wanted something, let’s say the new iPhone came out, and I had work to do that day. Guess what? I was online getting the iPhone. Of course.

Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Why not? You gotta get the iPhone. I can relate to that!

Mark Silverman:  When I wanted the sonic-blue when I put a picture of a Sonic blue Lexus convertible up on my wall, it wasn’t two weeks later that I was driving that thing off the lot. So the lie that I don’t do, what I, you know, like I can’t get anything done was a, was a big red flag for me. And I started to look at my week, and I made the decision one day that I was only gonna do what I wanna do. I was gonna follow my intuition. I was gonna follow my juice. I was only gonna do what was really important to me. And it usually was that one or two or three things in a day now, before everybody hits the panic button we do more than three things in a day, but I really wanted to see— what I wondered, you know, if it’s really, really important. So let’s say it’s urgent and important on that whole, on that scale. Or let’s say I have juice for it. So now I’m a podcaster. So an example was if I have an idea for a podcast, a solo podcast, right? If I don’t run to my microphone with the idea for that solo podcast and record it, that idea goes away, right? So I trust that intuition.

But then let’s say I have to pay the electric bill. It’s the 30th of the month. And the electric bill comes in. I don’t feel like opening the account, paying the electric bill, or doing all that stuff. That’s not something I feel like doing, but the consequence I wanna avoid is my electricity being shut off. That’s a very simplistic thing. So now I started to look at things. Now I started to look at a lot of the things on my to-do list was on my to-do list because other people expected me to do them. Now, when I started to look at the things that were on my list that I didn’t particularly wanna do, I just agreed to them because I don’t know how to set a boundary or, you know, that that was an eye opener for me. There were a whole bunch of things that I was doing because they were a good idea. Someone told me they were a good idea, or they asked me to do it. And I just didn’t say no. So when I started weeding through that, I realized, oh my God, I need to learn to set boundaries. I need to learn to say no. Then I would go. And let’s, let’s, let’s use today’s example. So my audiobook is being read, right? I, I keep saying, I’m gonna read my audiobook, and I never get to it. And I hired a guy to read my audiobook. And he said he would have it by last Wednesday.

And I contacted him on Friday. I said, you know, I haven’t seen my book. Haven’t heard from him, contacted him this morning. He goes, oh my God, I’m so sorry. You will have it by tomorrow. And I said, dude, have you read my book? <Laugh> like, because he is reading my book. I said, first of all, you said you were gonna do it in four days. That was impossible. So, you know, you could have now negotiated said, Mark, I’ll get it to you in a week. Got it to me in five days, you know, under promise over deliver. Yep. Right. Or you could send a note to me on Wednesday when you said it would be done and say, you know what? I need a few more days. Right. So keep your agree. So now I started to learn that I could renegotiate agreements.

We Only Do What We Want to Do on Our To-Do Lists

Mark Silverman: So if I said I would do something this week and I don’t have time to do it, I could call someone up. And I could say, you know what? I promised you this on Friday, but I’m not gonna have it done on Friday. If it’s really, really essential, let me know. And I’ll reprioritize things. But if you are okay, if I can have it to you by next Wednesday and they, you know, nine times outta 10, they’re like, yeah, sure. Who cares? Like when he said I haven’t had done, I’m like, dude, I’ve been waiting five years to write, read my book. If you take a couple of extra days, I don’t care. I just want communication. Right. I don’t wanna keep my agreements.

So now I learned that I didn’t have a time management problem or honesty problem with other people< Laugh>. I had an honesty problem with myself, right. What I was willing to do, what I’m gonna do. And I have a difficult conversation problem. I have an authenticity problem. Right? I wanna be liked. I wanna be all things to all people. I get my self-esteem from being all things to all people only all the time. And when I realized, oh my God, I am not the owner of my experience. Right. I’m a victim of my wanting to please and be everything to all people to look sharp, to look great. So that’s the premise of the book. It’s looking at your to-do list and figuring out why everything’s on there and then learning to guard it like a junkyard dog, because that’s the other big thing that I realized when I was in my forties, is I only have one life to live. And if I’m living that life, doing things I don’t feel like doing, I don’t wanna do, and aren’t important? Like there are a lot of things you don’t feel like doing but are important. So you find no reason to want ’em. I get to create my own life. I never knew that. So this whole book, for me, is about taking charge of your life, creating life the way that you want to, one to-do item at a time. How’s that for the origin story.

Making a choice to Do Things Differently

Jenn DeWall:  Well, and there’s, so I love that. I, well, there’s so much to unpack there, right? The first question I would even ask is— at 27, what was the like realization or the, oh my gosh. Something has to change. Like, how did you muster up the energy to do that? Because I sometimes think when we find ourselves in those places, it’s so easy to say, like, there’s no hope, right? Like it’s easy to give up hope. And so what my curiosity, because if someone else is maybe struggling with the same things that you shared, which we know that we see that, and actually people might maybe not be as honest as you about it. Right? People are just kind of hiding that. So if you had to say someone that might be at that same crossroad, what advice would you give to someone before, like kind of making that choice to go into a different direction?

Mark Silverman:  So let’s start with, with, you know, there wasn’t a lot of I, I’m not gonna give myself any credit for having an epiphany. I was, I needed to borrow some money. So I, I was living in my truck. So I drove to Washington DC to borrow some money from my brother so that I didn’t have to live in my truck. When I got to DC, my brother said, yay, I’ll go. You can have some money, but you’re gonna go to AA and you’re gonna go to NA and you’re gonna go to the gym and you’re gonna enroll in a college class. And you can live with me. So my brother is the one who saved my life and got me sober. I had no in again; remember, I didn’t wanna get sober. I wanted the money that he was willing to give me so that I could live.

Mark Silverman:  What happened was I took to the AA meetings and the NA meetings, like a duck to water. And I found people that I cared about. I really had no place else to go. So I started, you know, just going to meetings every day. And you know, that was 33 years ago. You know, one day at a time. My kids have never seen me drink. Right? My ex-wife has never seen me drink. My current husband is never seen me drink. So that that’s what happened. The advice for other people is let people help you. Like my big thing was I was such a piece of crap that I couldn’t allow anybody to help me. I could allow people to give me money and things, you know, when I was desperate, but to actually let someone into my life to help me and, and, and support me, you know, that self-esteem, wasn’t even high enough to allow that. And I would say you are worth it, no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you look like, your intrinsic value is there, let someone help you because your story. And again, I see, you know, my story really is inspirational to other people, right? I see the worst thing that ever happened to me turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, because I have love and compassion for people who have, you know, fallen. So your, your story someday will save another life.

Jenn DeWall:  I love that. Well, and the like right there too, like, you matter, you are worthy no matter what chair you’re in, what car you’re driving right now, you matter, even if you’re feeling at your lowest lows, which I know the world feels heavy right now, and work can be super challenging. And so give yourself some grace and like that foundational element of you matter. And going back into your book, you know, I think you hit on so many pieces within your origin story, whether it’s,

Mark Silverman: I’ve never told it that way, by the way that was, that was, that was that was, that was, that was the most original riff I’ve done on, on how I came to be to this day.

Your To-Do List Can’t Fill the Hole in Your Soul

Jenn DeWall:  I, no, thank you for your honesty, right? We, we, we rise by lifting others, and every person is both your teacher and your student, like, just hearing your story and really kind of how you came about these. Like, oh my gosh, why am I doing what I’m doing? And I think a lot of people, we find ourselves, and I know that you specialize within working with the C-suite, like we do find ourselves in these places of feeling like we constantly have to prove it. I know that for me. And one of the things that you had shared, I have a huge part of my identity that’s attached to my career. And so when things are going well, I feel really great when things might not be going well, or I perceive them to not meet the high expectations that I have. That’s when more of that mental health, you know, becomes a challenge or on the flip side, that’s when my do list starts going, like adding, adding, adding of things that I really don’t wanna do, just because I’m trying to prove that I’m enough. And I think you hit on so many things within that. And so,

Mark Silverman:  Or we’re, we’re all trying to prove that we’re enough. It just looks different for everybody. Right? Some people, it’s an achievement, some people, right? Some people, it’s actually crashing and burning because they got to love when they were at their lowest. Right. That one of my things is when I, you know when I crashed, people cared about me. Right? So, so that there’s, there’s so many ways to try and get love. Whether it’s overachieving, whether it’s underachieving, whether no matter what it is. Looking good, all that stuff it’s always to fill that hole. That’s because only everything leads to that hole in the soul.

Jenn DeWall: You know, I love that you bring that up because you and I both, you know, talking to different audiences sometimes when you bring that topic to people, people might say like, I don’t do that, that doesn’t. And so I’m curious, why do you think people avoid maybe acknowledging or embracing the fact that we do and are our harshest critics trying to prove it? Because I, I just notice that for some people they get it, but then there are always a few people that resist it. Like, no, no, no, no. Like I’ve got all my stuff figured out. I’ve never had an issue and I don’t buy it. I don’t know. Do you see that in your line of work?

Mark Silverman: I’ve never met a person who doesn’t that hole in their soul. Right. <Laugh> and, and I, and, and it’s intrinsic in, in just becoming a human being. But the, the reason we avoid it is that one, it just feels so painful. Two it’s it’s usually ancient. It’s usually early childhood. It’s usually something so deep and it feels bottomless. I can’t tell you how many workshops I’ve led, or have participated in or been, you know, the guy on the floor crying, right? That I’ve, I’ve seen grown, billionaires CEOs, you know, who never showed weakness in their lives, crying like a baby in the, you know, in somebody’s arms when they touch that pain. The gorgeousness of that is it’s not endless, right. There is, there is healing when you, when you let that out. That, so, so for me I, and it’s taken me a long time to realize that no matter how, and that’s one of the reasons I’m effective in the C-suite is because I know that, you know, I don’t care.

I wear a solid gold watch. I don’t care. Right. I was homeless. I don’t give a **. I know what’s going on with people that I’m talking about to. And even if they don’t admit it, admit it for four or five meetings later. Now I’ll tell people, people will tell me all the time. You know, like, no, I don’t have that. I don’t have that. I don’t have. And then like weeks later, they’ll be, you know, that thing you said about the hole in the soul a few weeks ago? Dude, it’s it’s here. You’re you, you were right on the money. And meanwhile, they’re protesting constantly. So I have to be steady in knowing who human beings are in order to be able to coach that way.

A Message from Crestcom:

Crestcom is a global organization dedicated to developing effective leaders. Companies all over the world have seen their managers transformed into leaders through our award-winning and accredited leadership development programs. Our signature BPM program provides interactive management training with a results-oriented curriculum and prime networking opportunities. If you’re interested in learning more about our flagship program and developing your managers into leaders, please visit our website to find a leadership trainer near you.

Or maybe you yourself have always wanted to train and develop others. Crestcom is a global franchise with ownership opportunities available throughout the world. If you have ever thought about being your own boss, owning your own business and leveraging your leadership experience to impact businesses and leaders in your community, Crestcom may be the right fit for you. We’re looking for professional executives who are looking for a change and want to make a difference in people’s lives. Learn more about our franchise opportunity on the Own A Franchise page of our website at

Do Men and Women See it Differently?

Jenn DeWall: Okay. I wanna ask a question as it relates to a man. Gender in the workplace. Because I think that that expression is so different, so what’s your take on, you know, helping people maybe overcome, I don’t wanna call it toxic masculinity, but it is that masculine. I have to be the hero that like, does this? How do you help maybe men come to that point of recognition and acceptance that it’s okay to be human? Because I think that they are, you know, whether it’s messages from media, whether it’s messages from how they’re, you know, grew up, I think there is a piece and we could also go on the flip side, with women, like, Hey, you can cry, but you can’t be angry. Like it’s, we were both taught different things, but how do you maybe help? I would say men who have been really conditioned that like, you don’t acknowledge that, or you don’t show that, like how to do you actually like hold space for that to help them recognize like it’s okay to be human.

Mark Silverman:  Well, first of all, how, you know, how many women go into the workplace, right. With their masculine, with their masculine flag planted, right? Yeah. They forget their femininity. They forget their feminine power. They forget being powerful women. They have to go be dudes, right? You know, pretty dudes in the, in the workplace. And then they go cry in the bathroom cause they can’t show weakness in the boardroom because it’s doubly, you know, it’s doubly—

Jenn DeWall:  Been there! Cried in many bathrooms!

Mark Silverman:  So, so it’s you know, so that hard shell that you put on to get into the corporate world, right. Very few women. And it’s more and more realize that a powerful woman in her feminine is so much more effective in the workplace than a woman. Who’s just all her masculine. But that’s on, that’s a new phenomena, I think in the world. Now for men, I can’t turn men on a dime. Right. You, you know, a CEO will build a company, you know, because again, remember that I said that, you know, the drives and motivations that get us to our twenties and thirties, turn on us in our forties and fifties. Right. Those things that get us to success, we have to start looking at it midlife. Same thing with leadership. The things that got these guys to leadership was that brute force was that toxic masculinity.

Right? So for the, to take that tool away from them is terrifying. So I would never take that tool away immediately. Right? We take pieces of the tools. We show them the effects of some of their behavior. And we turn that slowly and it, it, it actually, it’s breathtaking. It’s what you can do in a year with someone. It may look like week after week. You know, I talk to people all the time. So I do a 360 review with all of my clients. 360 review is where you go and you talk to peers, you go talk to superiors. You go talk to people who are underneath you and you, and you get a 360 view of what your anonymous 360 view of what your behavior is in the workplace. That 360 is so powerful. When I have to tell someone, people will not tell you the truth, because they’re terrified of your reaction, right? And to be able to— he art form to be able to speak truth, to power that way. You know, you’re toxic to your female employees or you’re toxic. One of the feedbacks I had to give is once you make a decision about someone, they might as well quit because you will never let them redeem themselves in your eye. They make a mistake and they’re done. And it’s like, I didn’t know I did that. Right. I just didn’t know. Right. So we can start slowly showing them the behavior. But telling them you have toxic masculinity is gonna do nothing. Most people will respond if lovingly shown the effects of their behavior. Because most people don’t see the effects of their behavior. I have one, I have one VP who is just, he’s a strong personality.

And what I have him doing is walking around, noticing how people are when he walks into a room, noticing, you know, just take a couple of deep breaths and notice someone’s body language while you’re talking to them. And he said, he, you know, after, after a week of being conscious and we talked the next week, he says, I saw people shrinking. Right. I saw people not speaking their mind. I saw it for the first time. Great. Now we can work on the tools on how to shift. And by the way, I don’t really have to work that hard. Because once they see it, now, the natural wanting to shift comes in.

Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Jenn DeWall:  Right? Oh, well. And I like the, you know, the thinking about the book, because so many people come into, you know, a coach where they’re like, I want the solution. I want the solution to fix this chaos or this stress or this. And it always starts within. And that’s what your book is, Confront your To-Do List and Transform Your Life. You know, we can give you tools for prioritization and time management and how to do that. But it has to start with understanding how you make decisions, and how you prioritize. So let’s bring it back to the book now. And thank you so much for just sharing your approach to that. Because I think I obviously like, and share my, you know, experience as a woman in the workplace. And like, what I think is unfair fair, not fair, but I do wanna hold space also for men. It’s not that it’s just, you know, women were the only ones, and we need to be able to like have space for both people to understand how we came to be and be curious about that.

But coming back to your book, where do you even then begin? So you’re starting with that self-awareness piece. And I’m curious because self-awareness so many different people have different approaches to it. You know, this is how you get it. I notice, or I heard you say the 360-review, how do you really work with someone too? I guess, establish that. Self-Awareness because, Hey, that’s where the resistance also lives is like, I don’t wanna take that on. I don’t wanna be seen as that person. No way! How do you start with that?

Mark Silverman:  Well, in my coaching, it’s a little bit different. So in my coaching, it’s the 360 in my coaching. It’s also I see things, right. I’m an empath. I’m intuitive. I’ve been there, done that. Right. I’ve worked with so many people. So I can say like when sales one of the things is you always ask questions that, you know, the answers to right. And, and just kind of get them to, you know, move along. You ask these questions to establish credibility. And then when, when you do that, then people start to put their guard down and then you can ask the questions and find out what you don’t know. Same thing is with these people that I coach, if I ask pertinent questions that make them think if I, if I make a statement, sometimes I’ll bold and I’ll say, you know you know, so you’re 55 years old and you know, your health is your, you know, your health is deteriorating and all that.

And I’ll get my health. My health is fine. I, I remember this particular one particular guy, my health is fine. I’m good. And then just as we’re leaving, we, we stand up and he says, by the way, I had a heart attack three years ago. Did you know that? I’m like, I didn’t know it was a heart attack, but I knew it was gonna be something right. Like you, you’re a pasty white kind of doughy guy. You’ve been in the hospital. Right. So I have to know that, but as far as the to-do list piece and for the book for me, the huge piece was when I said, when I have juice for something, when I have, when I have a want to do something, you know, there’s a difference between dopamine hits. There’s a difference between distractions wanting to do something, right?

I really want to go finish the last episode of The Boys from Amazon or this TV show I’m watching. Right. I really want to go do that. That’s a distraction. So for me, learning to slow down meditation, journaling, learning what’s in my heart, right? What that desire is, what’s, what’s inspired action versus what’s a dopamine hit? And that takes time that’s trial and error. That’s just making it a laboratory, right? Oh, look, I went over here. That was avoiding my work. So for me a thing that would look good, that that is a distraction is I love making worksheets. I am just crazy. Like, oh, I have an idea. I’m gonna make a worksheet about people skills versus versus people skills. Because I said something on a podcast that most people think people skills are this, but people skills are really this. So I’m gonna make a worksheet on that now. Yes. It’s great for me to make a worksheet, but that’s usually in place of me making sales calls. You know, like there’s certain things that I put as tens on my list and I fall back to let’s make a worksheet. <Laugh> so you know that I’ve, I’ve learned that about myself. Actually. I didn’t know about myself. It was my accountability partner who is like, you know, Mark, you have enough worksheets.

Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Well, it’s really easy to get lost in a worksheet haha!

Mark Silverman:  What you really need to do is make five phone calls this week. Like I’m an introvert. I would much rather work on a worksheet.

Beware Of Dopamine Distractions

Jenn DeWall:  I, you know, I love that you share that because it is, it starts with that recognition. Like how are you spending your time? And I can, you know, your message resonated with me because I struggle a lot with prioritization, a lot with focus. Now part of that they might say is because of MS. I have no idea if I could have something like, you know, other than that going on, but like, it is super difficult for me to sometimes follow through, but it’s super easy to go for the dopamine hits to be like, well, I feel really good. Like, even if I’m just doing something simple, like I’m gonna take out the trash and recycling! Like, even though I could be doing something different, I still am like, please did that. And that was good. And then I avoid maybe some of the things that actually will be more beneficial for those dopamine hits and it’s so much easier too, when like I perceive that task to be like, you know, determining what that level of, I guess, energy investment that it requires. But what, what are other reasons do you think that people sometimes avoid or like pursue the, the dopamine hit versus the inspirational? Like this is gonna make

Mark Silverman:  Me feel good because we’re trained rats. We’re just trained rats. We want the pellet and that’s it. We are, you know, like the reason certain foods taste good, you know, back way back when we got the dopamine hit of eating an orange, right? Like that, that kind of thing. But we are, we are bombarded all day, every day by people spending billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars to get our attention. We have an attention core in our pocket all day, every day. Right? That, that phone, if you, if you don’t think you’re addicted to your phone, you’re lying. You don’t, you’re, we’re, we’re so addicted and you can’t go to a restaurant now without three TVs, one with sports, one with news, you know, you, you can’t get away from this. I’m reading a book by Johan Hari called stolen focus.

And he just talks about how it’s in the air. Everywhere you go. You cannot, you cannot get away from this attention suck. So we’ve been trained away from deep work. We’ve been trained away from the dopamine hit. I interviewed a guy on my podcast who talks about porn and how it’s probably the leading cause for young men to not reach their potential. It’s not drugs and all that stuff. It’s, it’s fricking porn. And he talks about how your dopamine receptors get fried from either video games or porn, right. Because that’s just, it’s just exciting and it gets you going and all this stuff, and there’s a payoff to it. And then you need more and more. We used to get a dopamine hit from completing a piece of work, right? A task, planting a bush in our garden. Just, you know, sending, sending, sending a piece of work to our boss.

We get that dopamine hit, but now our dopamine receptors are all fried. So we don’t get that hit from it. So it’s not exciting to finish a piece of work. It’s not exciting to even win a sale because we are so used to getting our, dopamine from junk food or news, like, you know, for me, it’s political Twitter. I would much rather be outraged at what I read on Twitter than get a piece of work done because I’ve trained my body to respond to that. And we all have. And wrestling our attention from that, taking our electronics and putting it out.

Get an Accountability Buddy to Help Confront Your To-Do List

Mark Silverman: I have to, in order for me to get anything done, I have to take electronics out of my, my, my purview, my view, and I have to put headset on and I have to, you know, I put a ADD music on, or I will, you know, if I really need to get something done, I, and I, I found out that people are actually doing this buddy thing. I have a friend who also has to get something done and we open up zoom. We do a two hour session and say, what are you gonna get done in this two hours? Great check in, in an hour. Great. No, no gossip. We’re not talking. We are just looking at each other on the screen while we get our work done. And it’s amazing what happens when you just put a, put a buddy on zoom and get that work done.

Jenn DeWall:  I love that.

Mark Silverman: do my taxes every year with someone sitting on the screen doing whatever she’s supposed to be doing.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh. I feel like I need to take that idea. And start doing it.

Mark Silverman:  It. It’s brilliant. It’s so brilliant. There’s now a service.

Jenn DeWall: It’s just, yeah. I, oh, my it’s a service. That’s actually even more brilliant.

Mark Silverman:  I haven’t researched it. Someone just texted me because I talk about this all the time, you know about this accountability and having, just, just having an energy of someone else on, on zoom up in the corner of my laptop, keeps me on track and someone sent me a link and I haven’t looked at it yet— to this service.

Jenn DeWall:  I, I need to look into this service. So what would you say? Like knowing that we have probably, you know, a few minutes left here, like what, how would we unpack? Like or how do we begin to confront our to-do list? I know we talked about a few things in terms of more conceptual way, but is there like a process that you have or a framework that you Recommend?

Check out Special Resources for The Leadership Habit Audience

Mark Silverman:  So, the first thing is for your, for your, for your listeners, we put it, we made a page specifically for the people who listen to The Leadership Habit so that they can actually look at it,  instead of reading the book, they don’t even have to read the book. My clients won’t read my book. All my clients have ADD. They won’t read my book. So they want little five-minute videos. I

Jenn DeWall:  Blinkist. That’s what I that’s what a lot of people do now is just Blinkist. Get the short format

Mark Silverman:  Because we don’t have the attention span to read a stupid book. Right. I read about two dozen books a year, but I force myself to sit in the morning and read every day. But I make these little videos. So you go, so when I tell you what to do, you can go and follow up on The Leadership Habit page. The first thing you do is write down everything, and then you look at it, and you look at it with discerning eyes. Do you look at it with why is this on my to-do list? And then you start looking at, oh, this is supposed to be delegated, right? That’s a huge one for most of my executives is a lot of this stuff needs to be delegated, but they have the hero complex of nobody can do it as well as I do.

So they stay up until two o’clock in the morning and finish things. Right. so, okay. This needs to be delegated. All right. Now, what are the problems with delegating it? Oh, I haven’t trained my people properly to do it, or something like that. We have those mm-hmm <affirmative> those are that those are even more conversations, right? How do you give feedback and how do you get the quality work that you want back so that you can delegate it and free up your time? Right? This all leads to stuff, but then you look at what’s on my list that was on my list yesterday and the day before and a week ago and two weeks ago, is it really a 10? Is it really something that has to get done? I said it had to get done. In fact, I told everybody I have to get this done to, you know, today.

And that was last Thursday. Still not done. Obviously it didn’t have to get done. Right. So you start looking at those things, then you start looking at, you know, what’s a placeholder, what, what are you putting on your to-do list? Just cause you don’t wanna forget it again. For me, the add was really cool because everything on my to-do list, I can’t do A, B and C things on a to-do list. Everything screams at me, a plus a plus a plus I have to get done today. Right. So I can only have the A’s. I can only have the tens in front of me, so everything else goes someplace else. But my day is— I absolutely need to send the link to the, to the podcast resources to you right today. That’s my 10, right? Like whatever the tens are for today.

First, Eat the Frog!

Mark Silverman:  That’s all I look at. Now. Remember I said earlier, it doesn’t mean we’re only gonna do three things, but it means that we’re gonna eat the frogs. Right. As I forgot who said it— Brian Tracy, I think is Brian Tracy Eat the Frog First, right? We’re going to do the things that, the tens that need to get done, then I don’t care if you watch Netflix all day. Right. I, but what usually happens is when you start going and knocking off some of the other things, right. But as long as my tens are done, life moves forward.

Jenn DeWall:  I love, you know, if I actually did this, I’m trying to think if I did bored tens, I feel like I would have less anxiety, a greater sense of accomplishment, less stress less. And I know we talked about this word on the pre-call like overwhelm. And yet, you know, I think I still have my own resistance, but I, I really wanna Try.

It’s Easier to By Busy than To Choose What To Do With Our Time

Mark Silverman:  We all do we all do, it’s easy. It’s so much easier to be busy, than to actually choose what we do with our time and our attention. So much easier to be busy.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. One it’s just like avoidance too. Like I know some calls or difficult conversations. Like those it’s so easy to avoid those and be like, I don’t wanna get into that. And I actually don’t mind conflict, but yet if it’s, you know, I do avoid it to some extent too, if I think, oh my gosh, I’m not sure

Mark Silverman:  Who wants to be unpleasant? Who wants to be unpleasant? It’s unpleasant. It’s unpleasant to call someone and say, you know, that, that piece of work that you sent me, what I liked about it was this and this, but this needs to be fixed. Right. It’s unpleasant. So why would you do it? Why would you wanna do it? And it needs to be done, right? Otherwise you are the one fixing it at two o’clock in the morning.

Focus on the “Tens”

Jenn DeWall:  So when it’s the “tens”, is it like, is there a certain way to structure your day? Like with time blocking or, I mean, even talking about email, attacking that email..

Mark Silverman:  Email, everything I do is a necessity. I, well, every assistant I’ve ever had is like, oh Mark, have you ever tried time blocking? I’m like, all right, I have to train you again. I do not time block. I just do my tens. And if it’s 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock at night and I go to bed and I didn’t do a 10, I get outta bed and I do my 10. So you get done. I just don’t know when.

Jenn DeWall:  And then how do you fit in the eights or the fives?

Mark Silverman:  Eight and fives. See, that’s the thing, eights and fives.

Jenn DeWall:  But what about that’s like adulting, like how, you know,

Mark Silverman:  Back to the example of like eight and do not need to be done, give an example of an eight that gimme an example of a five that needs to be, that absolutely has to get done.

Jenn DeWall:  Like a bill.

Mark Silverman:  No, bill is a 10. A bill is a 10 on the day it’s due.

Jenn DeWall:  Okay. Got it. So it shifts based on the time, but there’s really not a lot of things that, you know, if it’s not a 10, it’s just not a 10.

Mark Silverman:  Right. It’s just not a 10. And that’s the argument that I get from everybody. But Mark, there’s all these things. And then when you look at it, it’s like, yeah, that doesn’t need to be done. Right. Or Mark, I have to hire a network, a new network engineer. Really? That’s on your list, hire a new en network engineer. Great. What are the steps to hiring a network engineer? Well, actually I have to write up the request to HR. Great. What else do you have to do? Well, they’ll, they’ll write the job description and all that, you know, and, and all the, and they’ll post it and everything. So all you have to do is write the request. Great. Now that’s the 10.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah.

Mark Silverman:  See the difference. But they put higher network engineers and its this big thing. When all it is, is a little email saying, Hey, could you guys write up the request.

Jenn DeWall:  I love that that’s a firm take. Well, and it’s, it’s the discipline take, right? The focus takes on what we’re doing, but what would you say to someone that feels like, you know, because we’re used to those dopamine hits or we’re used to feeling, you know, chronically busy and to only focus on tens might tell ourselves that we’re not being as productive. That we’re not as blank. Right? Because we’re giving something up to just focus on the tens. What do you say to that?

Mark Silverman:  I’ve never heard anybody who’s ever done. Only tens I’ve never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever heard that they don’t feel productive. They I’ve only ever heard. I finally feel productive because almost all the time I hear, I work all day long. I am busy all day long and I never get anything done. Never feels like I get anywhere. I fight fires all day long. I’m fighting fires all day. I’m like, can we go hunt some arsonists and see what’s causing the fires. Right? That that’s, that’s the shift. But anybody who’s actually implemented the tens have said, holy mackerel, we’ve moved the ball forward on all kinds of things. So yeah, that’s never been a problem. It’s only a problem before anybody tries it.

Is Email a “Ten” or a Distraction?

Jenn DeWall:  I mean, we, I know this is a topic that we often don’t talk about a lot companies don’t put it in job descriptions. What about email management? Right? Because hypothetically that is full of one and tens, but yet you have to, you know, kind of mine through it to figure out what that looks like. Like any tips for someone that’s struggling with a email, because now we’re saying that for some people it can equate to 30% of their work for a week, just the email management. It’s extremely time intensive or energy exhausting. I’m curious if you have any takes or just have, you’ve seen any solutions work for how people can do that. Because again, you have to have the time to mine through it, to determine what your tens are.

Mark Silverman:  Every executive that I have worked with who’s mastered it, has hired an assistant who they trust to do triage on their email. They hire someone else to do the triage on their email and they give the criteria of what comes through to them. So now it’s gotten one level of email management ahead of time. But for me, you know, like I, that’s not, that’s not something I know how to do. What I do know how not to do is make email. My dopamine hit, make email, you know, like organizing my email, like it’s actual work. Like it’s actually an actual 10. So I will in the morning delete, delete, delete, delete, save, delete, save, save, save. So that, by the time I get to my desk, I’m like, okay, these are the only things that really matter today.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. Okay. And I, I just had to ask that because I just know that it’s, you know, that’s a big attention pull and it’s also an anxiety producer in a lot of different ways. Oh, like the urgency. And I think when you don’t have any plan for it, it can very easily take all of your attention and make you feel less accomplished just by focusing on that. Mark, what would be any final thoughts or takeaways you might have for our listeners.

Confront Your To-Do List By Setting Boundaries

Mark Silverman:  This, a lot of things, I found a lot of things on my to-do list and I find a lot of things on most people’s to-do list have to do with worthiness and being all things to all people, not being able to set a boundary, not being able to delegate, not being, you know, not being able to do the thing. I, I was joking about the people skills versus people skills. I thought people skills were being nice to people and everybody likes me and all that kind of stuff. When I realized people skills are actually being able to set boundaries. It’s being able to create strong agreements about things. It’s about giving feedback. It’s about asking for help and asking for what I want. Right. So I now think people skills are a very different thing. So the self-worth piece, if you’re gonna set a boundary, the only way you can set a boundary is if you’re worth it.

Right. For me I read a book called Relax Into Wealth by Alan Cohen, which is what got me to become a coach. That’s a whole other story. But he said, what if he said, what if you treated yourself like you treat everybody else. And like, my ex-wife lived in the million dollar house. And I lived in the little apartment. You know, like I took care of everyone else, like, what do you mean? Like, treat myself like everybody else. I’m not even on the list. <Laugh> oh. So, so really working on, you know, you have intrinsic value, you get to be on the list. You were a precious, you know, like we all give to our children. You, you were a child once too, you have a life. You are as worthwhile as anybody else here. That is a revelation to me. And that’s the thing. That’s the first thing to start to work on.

Jenn DeWall:  I love that. You matter, Mark, how can people get in touch with you?

How to Find Mark J Silverman to Learn More

Mark Silverman:

They can go to the webpage, that one, the link that I give you for your, for the resources or just, Mark the letter J Silverman dot com. And everything’s there, my free workshops. I do a, a free workshop every month on this only tens thing. So they can go there. My 90 days out of overwhelm they can go there for that. And my podcast is called Mastering Overwhelm. How to thrive in business, life and relationship.

Jenn DeWall:  I love it. Check out. You’ll have to go and add over and check out Mark’s resources, listen to the podcast. Mark. Thank you so much for sharing your story, opening up your heart with vulnerability and just helping us recognize that, you know, I just love your final point of you matter. It’s been a joy to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming

Mark Silverman:  On. Thank you for letting me talk about things that are really deeper and more important than just the to-do list and noticing where that, where that actually leads. That was really beautiful. Thank you.

Jenn DeWall:  Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast. I really enjoyed my conversation with Mark. If you want to get in touch with him, you can go to There you can pick up his book. You can get to know more about him, subscribe to his podcast. And of course, if you are looking for your own development, as it relates to prioritization or time management, head to, we would love to help you develop your leadership skillset. So you can be as productive and accomplished as you want to be. And finally, if you enjoyed this podcast, feel free, give us a rating, let us know what you think or share it with a friend until next time. Thank you so much for listening.