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BREATHING SPACE

In praise of fantastical to-do lists

Richard Branson wrote "learn to fly" on a to-do list in the 1970s. And just look at how things have worked out for him...

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By Marisa Bate on

Richard Branson recently posted a picture of a to-do list he wrote in 1972. Branson was on the cusp of mega success; a year later he launched his Virgin Records label, The Manor and as he writes in the post, “We signed Mike Oldfield and released Tubular Bells – one of the biggest selling albums of the decade and the soundtrack to The Exorcist. From there Virgin Records grew and grew, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Branson says he’s a big fan of list-writing – and I think that’s probably true of a lot of successful people. But there’s successful people, and then there’s Richard Branson-private island-squillionaire type of successful person.

It takes courage, self-belief, bravado – however you want to see it – to allow yourself to admit you want to try and achieve something that’s out of the ordinary or difficult or rare

And I couldn’t help notice that the first thing on his list, scribbled in a paper diary, was “learn to fly”. We all know of Branson’s efforts to get to space and, of course, he has his own airline. I guess he can cross that off his list.

But I think that list is a clue to what makes someone like Branson so successful. At the top of his list, the most-pressing thing, the first thing that came to his mind, was the most fantastical, ambitious thing of all.

And by this Branson mindset, we should put the boldest, biggest dream at the top of our lists. Not lock it away with embarrassment, only coming out through drunk conversations or scribbles in notebooks kept in kitchen drawers. Not letting it be a regret or a lingering feeling of sadness when you see someone else doing it. No, according to Branson, we should put it at the very top of our to-do list, before the mundane and the practical.

It takes courage, self-belief, bravado – however you want to see it –to allow yourself to admit you want to try and achieve something that’s out of the ordinary or difficult or rare. We are so scared of so many things – scared of failing; scared of being perceived as arrogant enough to believe we could do anything remarkable; scared of not doing things and then living with regrets; scared of looking like the obnoxious person who puts “learn to fly” at the top of the to-do list.

But I quietly think there’s something in that – you don’t have to announce it in public or social media. But you can reaffirm to yourself that, yes, you do want to live in south America, you do want to learn to sing Opera, you do want to write a screenplay, you do want to join the circus, you do want to learn to fly. You can give yourself the permission to have an exciting, exposing-ly honest to-do list.

Right, I’ll give it ago. Here’s the actual to-do list I wrote this morning:

Email Matt re. book.
Contact the bank
Remember to take dress into work on Thursday
Buy birthday card
Send pics to Lily

So I altered it accordingly:

Live in a ranch in New Mexico, writing essays like Rebecca Solnit.
Email Matt re. book
Contact the bank
Remember to take dress into work on Thursday
Buy birthday card
Send pics to Lily

I’ll check back in in 40 years…

@marisajbate

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