The Mindful Midlife Crisis

Episode 83--Using a CHIPS List to Increase Your Daily Productivity

February 01, 2023 Billy Lahr
The Mindful Midlife Crisis
Episode 83--Using a CHIPS List to Increase Your Daily Productivity
Show Notes Transcript

In this week’s episode, Billy shares how he makes good use of this time through a routine or practice to ensure he stays productive throughout the day. Billy understands that every person operates differently, so feel free to adjust to fit your needs. The CHIPS list is backed by research and also has been tweaked by Billy himself as he experiments with what works throughout his life’s journey.

If you liked this episode, check out these episodes as well:

Episode 79–Morning Routines for a Successful 2023
Episode 5–Brian's Battle with Booze
Episode 61–Question the Drink with Gray Area Expert Kari Schwear
Episode 3–The Only Way Out Is Through: Billy Overcomes His Demons through Mindfulness

Articles mentioned:

Why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to save yours)
Why doing the easy parts of your to-do list first can be a bad idea

All of our episodes are available at

Book a call with me:

Get a free week of BetterHelp using Billy's referral code!

Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis!
We hope you enjoy this week’s episode!
If this episode resonates with you, please share it with your family and friends.

Sign up for our newsletter!  We send out new guided meditations each Sunday!  Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Topics?
Email Billy at

Follow us!
Instagram:  @mindful_midlife_crisis
Twitter:  @mindfulmidlife
The Mindful Midlife Crisis Podcast
Billy Lahr

Please leave us a 5-Star Review!  Doing so helps other people looking for a podcast like ours find it!

We hope you enjoy this week’s episode! If you’re really feeling gracious, you can make a donation to   Your donations will be used to cover all of our production costs. Thank you so much!  

Support the show

Billy: Coming up on The Mindful Midlife Crisis

She says, “Saying that we should always do the difficult task first can be extreme…We don’t have data, but my intuition is if people start with a difficult task and try to stick with it until they finish it, they could become demotivated without a sense of progress and super fatigued. Having a combination of easy and difficult is a more effective strategy. You get a sense of completion but at the same time mindful focus on difficult tasks as well.”

In the article, Vozza suggests we break down difficult tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks that feel easier and move the progress bar along.  The article also says that difficult tasks provide more opportunities for us to learn and develop our skills, but she again quotes Professor Kouchaki as saying,  “What’s more important is the psychological sense of completion and that it matters…Ultimately, the goal should be to be aware and be more intentional and mindful of what you do.”

Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.  I’m your host, Billy Lahr. Thank you for tuning in wherever you are.  The purpose of this show is to provide a platform that gives people the space and permission to share their expertise and life experiences in order to help others navigate the complexities and possibilities of life’s second half, but on the first Wednesday of every month, I record a solo episode to share my travel experiences with you and how those experiences are helping me navigate my own mindful midlife crisis, which is actually more of a midlife pivot than a crisis because if I’m being honest, I’m feeling pretty good about where I am in my life, but if you’ve been a fan of the show since Day One, you know it hasn’t always been that way, so I’m happy to share my experiences with you in these solo episodes in the hopes that my trials, tribulations, and successes will inspire you to take intentional action to live a more purpose-filled life.

And remember, this free and useful information is helpful to people of all ages. Wisdom isn’t about one's age, wisdom comes from our ability to reflect, learn, and grow from our own life experiences while also learning from the experiences of others regardless of what stage of life we are in because you just never know what life is going to throw at you, so there just might be a story or two from past episodes, whether those come from these solo episodes or the experiences and expertise my guests share with us, that help you be feel better prepared for the challenges you might face in life or that you’re facing right now, whether those challenges be your emotional, mental, and/or physical health, your relationships with others including your partner and children, your career…whatever curveballs life is throwing your way right now.  Just know that you are not alone in your experience, and the conversations I’m having here are with people who have been there before or have done the research to help you navigate these situations with more awareness, openness, curiosity, and compassion so you can live a more purpose-filled life.  

And trust me, I take all of the conversations I’m having to heart as well, and I try to apply what I’m learning from each of these conversations, which is why I enjoy doing these solo episodes because I think of this show as a running dialogue between me and you the listener because my hope is that you can see and hear the growth I’m making in my own life so that it inspires you to seek out the connections between these shared experiences so that you too can take intentional and inspired action.  So if you’re looking for some ways to help you better navigate whatever you’ve got going on in your life from someone who’s been through it before, check out some of our other episodes at or wherever you get your podcasts.

I am recording this week’s episode from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and by the time you hear it, I will be in Krabi, Thailand.  Not bragging, but some of you listen to this show because you like hearing about my travels, so if you’re curious what I’ve all been doing since I got to Thailand at the start of the New Year, give me a follow on Instagram at mindful_midlife_crisis.  

Speaking of the new year, let me ask you this: we’re a month into 2023…did you make a New Year’s Resolution?  And if you did, how’s that going for you so far?  Are you sticking with what you set out to do way back on January 1st?  Or have you abandoned all hope?  I’m sure there are many of you out there who have ditched your New Year’s Resolution, and you know what? That’s okay, you’re definitely not alone.  In fact, according to past studies cited in the N26 article I’ll link in the show notes, 80% of people abandon their New Year’s Resolution by the first week of February. 

And like I said, if you have abandoned your New Year’s Resolutions, it’s no big deal.  It happens.  Maybe you didn’t have a plan in place.  Maybe your resolution was more of a wish than an outline of intentional action.  Maybe you just don’t know how to budget your time very well. It’s okay to be where you are, and I’m sure you’re great just the way you are, but I am also of the opinion that we should always be looking for ways to reflect, learn, and grow as people whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself, because if you’re not choosing to grow, then you’re choosing to decay.  And if you’re not intentionally taking action to make changes, you’re going to be the same you when the next new year rolls around.  And don’t even get me started on this “New Year, New You” bullshit or the even more ridiculous counter-movement to that which is, “New Year, Same You.”  I think both of these are equally ridiculous. The world doesn’t need a new you, but I do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, so in today’s episode, I’m going to teach you a method that I use from time to time to help me be more intentionally productive.  

And remember, life is an experiment, and if I’m being honest, a lot of what I’m sharing with you has undergone many trials and errors, and I’m still tweaking things, so feel free to take everything I’m sharing here with a grain of salt.  You’re also welcome to adapt it in a way that works for you because life is not a one size fits all existence, but with that being said, what I’m sharing with you today does have some research that supports it whereas other elements of what I’m sharing have simply been conducted in my own life laboratory.   

So, in Episode 79 I walked you through why I think morning routines are important and I walked you through what a morning routine looked like for me when I was at my most productive, so now I want to show you how I prioritize what I need to complete each day.  

So what I did is I created this thing I call a CHIPS list.  

What’s a CHIPS list you ask?  Well, I think to-do lists just promote busy work.  There is no sense of urgency or importance, it’s just, “Hey, here’s something to do today.”  

A CHIPS list, though, first identifies what you absolutely NEED TO COMPLETE TODAY.  Not tomorrow.  Not later in the week.  TODAY.  So that’s what the “C” stands for.  Complete.  

This does not include daily habits, which we’ll talk about later.  It means the 3-5 tasks that must be completed today.  And when you work on these tasks, you will find that you’re more focused and can get in a groove when you eliminate distractions.  Put your phone away so you won’t be disrupted by notifications.  Admittedly, this is my biggest weakness, but I’ve found that when I leave my phone out of sight, it’s out of mind, and I am far more focused and productive.  You’ll be tempted to check your phone after you complete a task, but I would encourage you to instead take three mindful breaths before you transition into the next task.  Who knows…maybe you’ve been hunched over your computer and your body has been screaming at you to sit up or stand up but because you’ve been so hyper-focused, so let’s practice taking three mindful breaths right now.  

Now, you can practice these three mindful breaths anywhere at any time, but I’m going to ask that if you’re practicing this right now as you’re listening to me and you’re driving or doing something else that requires you to be focused on your safety, that you keep them open.  But if you’re sitting or stand still, including on a bus or subway, but again NOT DRIVING A CAR, I’ll invite you to close your eyes, or you can simply lower your gaze.  And now just feel your natural breath as you inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose.  Just let that feeling register for a bit.  (pause)  Notice where you feel your breath, whether it be in the belly, the chest, the shoulders, or the nose.  (pause)  And now take a little longer inhale through the nose, filling up your belly with air, and now slowly exhale through the nose, letting the belly soften.  Notice what your shoulders are doing, and if you feel them move up and down excessively, see if you can bring some relaxation to them and direct your next slow, long inhale into your belly, and on the exhale, letting your body soften, melting into the breath leaving your body.  Let’s do a long, slow inhale through the nose, filling your belly with warm air, and slowly exhale through the nose, and when you’re ready, go ahead and open your eyes.  Take inventory of these new sensations and the world around you.  

How did that feel?  What was that experience like?  What new awareness about your body, breath, thoughts, or emotions do you have after just taking those three mindful breaths?  Did you find it beneficial in some way?  If you did, then I encourage you to visit and go to the contact page and sign up for the newsletter because I send out meditations like that every Sunday.  You can also visit The Mindful Midlife Crisis YouTube Page and access them there as well.  All of that is in the show notes, so let’s do this, let’s take a break so you can sign up for the newsletter and subscribe to the YouTube page and when we come back, we’ll talk more about what all goes into a CHIPS list.  Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.  

Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.  Today I’m talking about how we can prioritize our tasks through a CHIPS list.  We just covered the first C, which is complete.  So now that we’ve crushed our 3-5 tasks in our Complete list and we’ve taken our three mindful breaths, go ahead and let that feeling of productivity hit you and allow yourself to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment.  That’s your intangible reward, and quite honestly, that’s what will instill discipline and consistency within you so you can continue taking inspired and intentional action.  

So what’s your tangible incentive to complete those tasks?  Well, that’s where the “H” comes in. The “H” stands for “Hooray!”, because you’re going to identify something that you’re going to do later in the day that will bring you joy. For me in Korea, it’s often attending a SeoulShare or CIK MeetUp event or going out to dinner with a friend.  

Now, I’ll tell you this, I’m a firm believer in celebrating your completions in some way, and my BetterHelp therapist seconds this and actually really liked the way I developed this CHIPS list with intention throughout my day, juuuuuuust in case you needed some validation that this is actually al legit productivity tool.

My one recommendation I have is this: avoid using alcohol and food as your “Hooray!”  I think alcohol is something that should be consumed sparingly, NOT DAILY!  I have an issue with all those “beer with dinner” dudes and “wine moms” out there, and we’ve talked about this in Episode 5 when Brian on the Bass shared his story with alcohol abuse and we discussed it with gray area drinking expert Kari Schwear in Episode 61, so if you’re wondering why I have an issue with this, check out those two episodes.  

I also think that when we view certain foods as “treats”, it has the potential to warp our relationship with food.  So listen, your celebration can be as simple as transitioning from “doing mode” into “being mode.” We don’t have to constantly be in “doing mode.”  Maybe your celebration is sitting outside and letting the sun and the cool breeze hit your skin while you just simply sit in awareness and gratitude.  We’ll talk more about the power and benefits of gratitude at another time.  

Once you’ve completed your “C” List and you’ve identified how you’re going to celebrate your job well done in your “Hooray” list, , you can choose to move on to your “IPS” list, which stands for “In Progress/Start.”  Got a little extra time and energy after crossing off the items on your “Complete” List?  Still feeling motivated and productive after those last three mindful breaths?  Then by all means, feel free to work ahead.  And notice I said work ahead, not get caught up.  If you need to get caught up on something, put that task in the “Completed” list.  But if you want to work ahead or finish something before its deadline, then go for it!  But if you choose not to work on it and you instead choose to simply bask in the glory of your work completed, that’s cool, too!  Just know that whatever is on your “IPS” list is eventually going to be on your “C” list.  

Now that you know how to create a CHIPS list, the million dollar question is this: “Should I start with the easy tasks first or the difficult tasks first?”  

Well, this is where research and personal preference get in the way of each other, so I think context and nuance are important to discuss when it comes to prioritizing tasks.  

So, I used to think starting off the day with small tasks and using those to build momentum was the best approach to productivity.  But I’ll link an article in the show notes that says according to research, we should knock out the hard stuff first because the little things begin to feel like busy work and are really just methods of procrastination, so research says, start with the hard stuff first.  

Personally, that’s not how I operate.  

Let’s take this episode for example.  I knew I had to write the script for this episode before I left Korea, and I knew my last week in Korea was going to be extremely busy.  I set a deadline for Tuesday, December 27th, to get this episode recorded before I left Korea on Friday, December 30th because I thought I was going to put it out the first week in January, but I moved it to February instead.  That means I started writing it on Christmas Eve because I was feeling super-motivated to get this script started, but because I kept making numerous revisions to it, I also worked on it on Christmas Day.  

Here’s the thing…I didn’t really feel like working on it that day.  

I didn’t sleep well the night before.  I woke up around 4:15 am and I wasn’t able to fall back asleep until 6:00ish, and I woke up around 9:00ish, and I just wasn’t feeling super productive that day.  

But I also knew that I had a strict self-imposed deadline because I wasn’t going to have time to write this script the first few weeks I was in Thailand.  So I needed to get this episode written!   

But I just didn’t feel like working on it.  

So what did I do?  

Well, in order to build momentum, I replied to three emails that I’d been putting off for about a week or so.  Sending those emails felt good.  It released some dopamine, which allows us to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation.  

Doing so helped me focus on finishing the script for this episode, which I can tell you has undergone several revisions due to the research I keep doing around habits, goal-setting, and task-tackling, and I’m actually making slight changes to it as we speak, but the good news is that it’s pretty much completed because even though I wasn’t motivated that day to write it, I found a way to move forward and get unstuck by starting my day off with a few small wins.   

So again, that leads us to this:  should we tackle the hard stuff first or the easy stuff first?  

Well, according to this article by Stephanie Vozza, which I highly recommend reading so I’ll link it in the show notes, it’s best to do a combination of both.  

Vozza references some research conducted by Maryam Kouchaki, who is an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and she quotes Professor Kouchaki as saying, “Saying that we should always do the difficult task first can be extreme…We don’t have data, but my intuition is if people start with a difficult task and try to stick with it until they finish it, they could become demotivated without a sense of progress and super fatigued. Having a combination of easy and difficult is a more effective strategy. You get a sense of completion but at the same time mindful focus on difficult tasks as well.”

In the article, Vozza suggests we break down difficult tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks that feel easier and move the progress bar along.  The article also says that difficult tasks provide more opportunities for us to learn and develop our skills, but she again quotes Professor Kouchaki as saying,  “What’s more important is the psychological sense of completion and that it matters…Ultimately, the goal should be to be aware and be more intentional and mindful of what you do.”

And this was the approach I often took with my students.

I would frequently meet with students who were failing their classes, usually due to missing assignments, projects, and assessments.  So I would print out their missing assignments for each class, and we would go through them together.  I would say, “Okay, you have three missing assignments in this class, six in this class, four in this class, and one missing project in this class that will bump you up to a passing grade once you complete it and turn it in.”  

So if you’re a difficult task person, you’re probably thinking, “Well duh, do the missing project first.”  

Well…not so fast.  

You also have to be mindful of how much you’re trying to complete.  That’s something else I would point out to my students.  

So, I would usually start with the class with the one missing project because I wanted to know how much of that project was finished.  So I would ask them, “How much of this is completed?” And based on that response, we’d create a new deadline that we’d approve with the teacher.  If the project was 75% completed, I’d say, “Okay, let’s make this a priority. How long do you think it will take you to finish this project and when do you think you can turn it in?”  And they’d say, “I can probably finish it tonight and turn it in tomorrow.”  Perfect.  

But then I’d get the kid who’d say, “I haven’t even started it yet” or “I’ve completed about 20% of the project.”  Well, then that’s not going to be a priority yet because that project is most likely going to take a bunch of focused time to complete, which means time before or after school working on it with the teacher or with one of our academic mentors in our after school academic support program.  That’s going to take a lot of time, and staying after school to work on missing assignments is is not a high priority for students who don’t enjoy school, but if we can generate some momentum by completing some of the other missing assignments in his classes, especially if we identify the big bang baby assignments, then it’s possible we see some light at the end of the tunnel and we can motivate the kid to do what’s necessary to complete the missing project.  

But I would have students with 10-15 missing assignments spread throughout four classes, so we would identify the big bang baby assignments and I would ask them, “Okay, how much of this assignment do you have completed?”  And sometimes it was finished and all they had to do was submit it, so I’d watch them do that in my office and we’d move on to whatever assignment was the next priority on the list and I’d ask that same question, “How much of this assignment do you have completed?”  Maybe they’d say 70%.  I’d say, “Okay, how long will it take you to finish this assignment and when you can you submit it?”  And they’d always say, “Tomorrow.”  So then we’d go through the rest of the assignments like that, and by the third time they’d say, “Tomorrow”, I’d stop them and say, “Well wait, you already said you’re going to complete these other other missing assignments by tomorrow, and you have your current homework that you also need to complete.  Do you think that’s realistic?”  

Obviously, they were telling me what I wanted to hear.  They thought I wanted to hear them say they’d complete all of that work in one cram session.  But let’s be real here…they weren’t going to complete all that work in one night.  So I said, “How about we turn that one in two days from now.  That way you can focus on this first batch of assignments that you’re almost completed with tonight, you can do this other assignment tomorrow night, and you can do this assignment the next night.  Then, over the weekend, you need to tackle this project that you haven’t started yet and make progress on it so you can turn that in.  When do you think you can turn that in?”  And then we’d set a new realistic deadline that we would then ask for the teacher’s approval of the new plan.  

Did this work all of the time?  No, it didn’t.  In fact some students outright hated going through that process.  It was much easier for them to just ignore the problem and let those missing assignments pile up than make a plan to resolve it.  

Now, there were a few really important questions I forgot to ask during these sessions.  They were: 

–“What responsibilities do you have when you get home from school?  Are these responsibilities getting in the way of you completing these assignments in the first place?”  

–”What is your nightly homework routine?  If you don’t have one, let’s discuss what that will look like moving forward so you don’t find yourself in this situation again.”  

More often than not, the issue was almost always time management.  Yes, there were often far more complicated issues getting in the way, but at the end of the day, the majority of students fell behind in their classes due to poor time management at home.  Why?  Because it was unstructured time, and teenagers, hell, even adults, including me, struggle with unstructured time.  

Essentially, though, that’s what I was doing with my students.  I was cutting off the number of decisions they had to make about what to work on and when.  They’d had the luxury of making that choice taken away from them due to their own irresponsibility and lack of time management.  That’s not harsh: that’s what’s called a natural consequence.  With great power comes great responsibility, and when you can’t handle that responsibility, someone usually needs to step in.  

So just as I did for my students, I am here to offer my services to YOU in case anything I have shared today sounds intriguing but you’re just not sure where to start or you’re just not convinced you’ll stick with it unless someone holds you accountable.  

And if there’s one thing I learned during my first year of solo traveling, it’s this: I should’ve budgeted for either therapy or a life coach.  I was navigating so many life transitions that I’d never had to think about before, and I was dragging a lot of unresolved emotional baggage and residue with me, so when I tried to make a plan, I was only using the tools I had in my toolbox.  Luckily for me, I was also having a lot of great conversations with amazing guests who shared their experiences and expertise, and I was able to implement a lot of what they shared into my own experiences so that I could navigate life a little better.  

But when I went back to Korea in October, I finally invested in working with a therapist again through BetterHelp.  Now again, BetterHelp is NOT a sponsor of this show…yet…but I am more than okay with giving them a little bit of free advertising because I am a huge advocate of therapy because if you go back and listen to Episode 3, you’ll hear about how therapy and mindfulness not only changed my life but most likely saved it as well.  So if you’re looking for some affordable mental health services, you can get a free week of BetterHelp by going to the show notes and clicking on the referral link.  Just to be transparent, if you sign up, I also get a free week, but if you sign up, then you’ll get your own referral link that you can share, and if one of your friends or family members or colleagues signs up using your referral link, then you get a free week and it becomes this beautiful pay it forward cycle of emotional support and healing that allows us to experience and live with more joy in our lives, which in my opinion, we all could use a little more of these days.  So check out the show notes for that referral link.  I wish I would’ve started using this service a year ago when I first started traveling and transitioning because when you’re doing something like this alone, it can feel overwhelming, so it’s nice to have a licensed therapist to help you process everything so you can follow through on those life-changing daily habits that lead to achieving your goals in life.

And I take my conversations with my therapist and the guests of this show to heart so that I can put in the work to get just a little better in the long term.  Do I make progress every single day?  No, of course not.  Our growth looks more like the stock market.  We might go through a really rough patch that puts our growth into a bear market, and we may not reap the benefits for a while.  But if we play the long game, you’ll see the stock market always bounces back, and so can you.  

And like I said before, if you're not investing in personal growth, then you are investing in personal decay.  If you haven’t been investing in your personal growth, it’s time to make a move.    

So, if you’re looking for a way to help you be more mindful and productive, let me be your accountability partner.  It’s my way of saying thank you for investing in me by listening to me share this advice with you today, and I want to show my appreciation to you.  There’s no cost, there’s no obligation.  As I said before, I just want to see you succeed, so if you start falling behind, I’ll be there to help you reflect, learn, and grow.  

And remember this…mindfulness is about sitting in awareness with open curiosity, compassion, and non-judgment.  So if you suddenly become aware that you’ve fallen behind, congratulations!  You are practicing mindfulness.  My job will be to help you process that new awareness with curiosity, compassion, and non-judgment so we can let go of whatever is holding us back from living a more purpose-filled life.  

So if what I shared today sounds intriguing to you, then go ahead and click on that Calendly link in this episode’s show notes and let’s make a plan to reflect, learn, and grow in 2023.  

If this episode inspired you to invest in yourself in a new way, please do me a favor and subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.  If you’re an Apple listener, please consider leaving us a five-star review with a few kind words, and if you’re a Spotify listener, give us a follow and click the five stars under the show art.  There are a LOT of resources in this week’s show notes, so be sure to have a look at those as well.    

If you’d like to share your thoughts on this week’s episode, you can find all of my contact information in the show notes as well.  Feel free to email me your takeaways from this conversation at  You can also follow me and DM me on Instagram at mindful_midlife_crisis, or you can send a message through the contact page at  While you’re there, feel free to sign up for the newsletter so you can get access to the free meditations I send out every Sunday.  

Finally, remember that sharing is caring, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this episode with the people in your life who may benefit from having someone help them be more mindful and productive so they can live a more purpose-filled life in 2023.  

So, with that, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved.  Take care, friends.