The Worry List: Utterly unglamorous, incredibly important

How to construct, maintain, and benefit from a Worry List

This week’s newsletter is by my partner Leah, building on last week’s to demonstrate how to use and maintain a Worry List. —Joel

Worry subversively erodes your resiliency stock. And as a business owner, that stock is precious and all-too-often in flux. When we allow our work worries to build up unchecked, we put ourselves at risk.

Because worries don’t compile, they compound. Like a dandelion, they go—seemingly overnight—from a single weed to a hundred seeds floating in the air, latching onto anything and everything, rooting deeply and growing quickly. 

As worries multiply, they get heavier and harder to carry. We get tired, sore, and run down. We have a harder time thinking critically and strategically. They begin to inhibit our best work, they suck the joy from our tasks, and they prevent us from being our best.

Because business worries don’t have boundaries. They don’t stay at the office at the end of the day. The stick with us, everywhere we go. They affect our mood, our relationships, and our health. They create dysfunction. 

But just like when you were little and the best way to scare away the monster under the bed was to shine a light under there, it’s time to go full flashlight on our worries.

It’s important to recognize up front, however, that it’s often an uncomfortable task. It requires us to confront all the worries we have, and that can become a lengthy, overwhelming, de-motivating, and even daunting list.

But shining a light on those pesky thoughts obstructing our progress helps open up space to address them, either by spotting them for what they are so we can organize and address them, or by realizing there wasn’t anything real there—it was always just a shadow.

So let’s start shining a light, together.

Grab some paper and mark out three columns:

My Worry | My Ideal Future | My Path 

Part 1: My Worry

When you’re writing out all your worries about your business or its marketing, think about the feeling you have about the issue. What emotion is it sparking in you? Try to note both the emotion and the practical issue, such as I’m unsure about what to put on our social channels and it’s making me feel nervous about backlash.

Noting both the emotion and the tangible business action will be helpful as you move along in the document.

Once you’ve poured your heart out in the worries column, close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. This is helpful to reset yourself. You want to be in a fresh headspace to tackle the next column.

Part 2: My Ideal Future

In the ideal future section, you want to picture yourself six months to a year from now. The worry is gone, and better still, it’s been replaced with the exact opposite—you’re feeling fantastic! What does that look and feel like? 

Write down the emotion and the practical issue that has been resolved, such as I’m feeling confident that we are engaging our best customers on social media with our best content, and I am proud of our channels and our work.

Sit with this feeling for a moment. How do you physically feel thinking about this positive progress?

Part 3: My Path

Starting from this place of positivity, it’s time to tackle column three: The Path Forward.

Here is where you want to consider and critically think about what needs to be true in order to achieve the ideal future state. It might be one big thing (like a new hire or a strategic plan) or it might be a few things combined (like more dedicated time, a small budget, and new creative assets).

Staying with our social media example, if you want to go from nervous about your social media content to confident and proud, what’s needed, in both emotional resiliency and practical tools terms? Maybe you need a strategic plan for audience growth, or a clearer market position. Maybe it’s a dedicated resource. Maybe you just need to jettison some channels and focus. 

Write it all down. You’re doing great!

Part 4: Pattern Recognition 

Lastly, let’s look at this beautiful document holistically and uncover patterns. What similarities emerge in the Path column?

Will a strategic plan or a new resource address or resolve multiple worries? Will training or timing help you move forward on a few important fronts? Are there some things on this list well beyond your purview that you can speak to a business colleague or expert about?

As patterns emerge and you can group items, you’ll begin to see where immediate steps can be taken for maximum benefit or quick wins. Start the work there, make progress on what would need to be true, and you’ll find momentum builds easier.

Because dwelling on worries isn’t good for you or your business. 

As Arlene Dickenson says in All In, “One of the most insidious aspects of worrying is that it can fool you into thinking that wringing your hands is the same as doing something to solve your problem.”

If writing this out is step one, starting to make progress is step two, and maintaining your worry list is an important step three. 

As you make progress on the actions and activities in your Path column, update the worries and the ideal future state. As you cross worries off your list (a marvellous feeling!), recognize that accomplishment and take a moment to celebrate it. 

When we mark positive moments with even small celebrations, we create positive associations with our actions and outcomes, making it more likely we’ll remember the work happily and have the confidence to tackle similar challenges more readily next time. 

I’m a big proponent of celebration at The Family Knife and with our clients. I’m usually the one sending a high five, pausing a meeting to offer congratulations, or—despite the occasional eye-roll—cheerfully suggesting cake in the conference room.

And I do this, and believe in it firmly, because the work you are doing is hard, and leading a business can be lonely. There’s no one to pat you on the back or tell you “Good job!” 

But you deserve celebration, recognition, and a congratulations for the hard work you put in every day. 

And writing out a worries list is hard work. It’s emotionally taxing. It’s not glamorous, and it won’t immediately result in more sales tomorrow. But it will help with sales, marketing, operations, and growth in the future, and for a long time to come.

And it will help you run a better business over the long term. It will help you be a better leader.

And it will lead to becoming a stronger you, because you’ll have so much forward progress to look back on.

As Arlene says, “Survival depends on developing strategies for managing worry.” 

The Worry List is one way to do just that.


If you liked this post, would you please share it with a friend? And if you have questions or suggestions for upcoming newsletters, you can email Joel at joel@familyknife.com and Leah at leah@familyknife.com