time management

How To Go From Dreamer to Doer

You handled today’s To Do list like a boss. You’re good at what you do and people know it. You look at your life and think this is pretty damn good.

So, what’s with that thought? Yep, that one.

Umm, that thing you’re really good at? The one you’re known for and have built your career around? What if that’s not really who you are? What if that’s not really what you want to be doing? What if you could spend your days doing that other thing? The one that makes your cells tingle.


You ignore it.

Yet, it persists. And the guilt creeps in: Who are you to want more when you already have so much?

It persists. And you think, Could I?

And you wonder, What if?

Careful. You’re teetering on a dream. It’s dangerous territory for a Doer like yourself. You’ve bought into the dichotomy of Dreamers vs Doers and you’re clearly a Doer. Dreams can wait until you’re finished with the doing.

I call bullshit.

Learning to dream changed everything for me. My doing changed; it became more focused, more enjoyable, more sustainable.

I came to my dream the long way around. Maybe you’ll have a more direct route or maybe not. It’s a personal journey so I can’t prescribe a formula, but I hope by sharing my story you can find something to borrow and make your own.

Step One: Seeking Clarity

There was something rising in me. I could only describe it as “its time has come” and the pain of keeping it to myself was greater than my fear of sharing. I wanted to explore who this “new” me was and I was especially curious how she might translate to my business.

I had no idea where or how to start this exploration. After many failed attempts, it was clear I wasn’t going to figure this out on my own. I turned to Chela Davison. Together we delved into my new way of being and how it might show up in my life.

The clarity I found through this work spurred me into action with a lot of experimenting and learning along the way. I expected to encounter resistance as a natural reaction to the change, but one roadblock in particular kept cropping up. It was the nagging little voice asking where all this was going, what was the point.

That question scared me because part of my new way of being was letting go of my addiction to everything in my life needing a three bullet point justification and an accompanying strategic plan of how to execute, measure and review.

I’d had enough of that and didn’t want to get sucked in again. So, I went back to Chela.

This time we sat together in my tiny vacation rental in Vancouver. We identified my top three personal and work goals and mapped them out in just enough detail to appease that inner voice while leaving plenty of room for improvisation.

And…it felt empty.

Chela must have sensed my frustration. Pointing to the big sticky notes posted around the room she asked the magic question: In service to what?

Long silence.

If she had asked why all of this was important I would have answered without hesitation: my family. Everything I did was for them. No equivocation.

But that turn of phrase — in service to — kicked off a seismic shift. It was so much bigger than “doing for.” It was devotion.

What was I devoted to?

Step Two: The One Pager

The answer that spilled out of me eventually became the One Pager.

One Pager by Denise Cornell

One Pager by Denise Cornell

It’s the first page in my trusty three-ring binder. I read it almost daily. It’s my North Star. At least once a year I check in with myself to see if anything needs to be revised. The Expertise quadrant tends to change a bit with shifts in my professional interests. The others have remained unchanged going on three years now. When you go deep, it lasts. (Did you notice the second bullet under Checkpoints? “Is this Do worthy?” I wrote that 17 months before I started writing for Do Lectures. Funny how that happens, right?)

Last year I added what Tanya Geisler calls your Brand of Joy. This is the thing you seek in everything you do. For me it’s Welcomed. In everything I do I want to feel welcomed, to feel like I belong and I want to offer that same feeling to those around me.

Step Three: The Dream Unfolds

The One Pager and embracing life in a more creative way were the beginning of a transformation, but at my core I’m a planner and I craved a concrete answer to where this was all going. I didn’t want to default to my old ways of over-planning, so I committed to an experiment. I gave myself three months of open ended exploration and curiosity. If at the end of that time I didn’t have a clear answer to where this was leading then something would have to change.

For three months I studied my One Pager. I shared it with trusted friends. I asked for feedback. I copied it longhand over and over again as a way of interacting with it, absorbing it. I read it aloud. Then I started dissecting every word, phrase and bullet point. I examined everything. What did family lifestyle mean? What would a welcoming home to gather family and friends look like? What kind of travel? How often? Who? Read what? Write what? Share how? With whom? And so on.

This exercise accomplished two things. It satisfied the part of me that loves the granular details and it gave space for a dream to be born. As I repeatedly asked, “What does this look like?,” the dream started to unfold. I could see exactly where all this was heading.

In the past, big goals had seemed somewhat obligatory. They were the things I was supposed to be doing: save this amount, buy the house, diversify my portfolio, achieve this revenue, accomplish these things. All so arbitrary. This time was different.

This wasn’t a goal. It was a dream. The Dream. And it had been born from me, not from out there, not from others.

It became my fuel. My aspiration. My top priority.

(No, you didn’t miss it. I’m not sharing the details of my actual dream. It’s not “for your eyes only” top secret, but it’s mine. Sacred. So, not here. Maybe over a caipirinha.)

Step Four: From Dream to Calendar

I had my big dream in hand, but my head was most definitely not in the clouds. I was more focused than ever. More motivated. More excited.


With The Dream as my top priority, life got a whole lot simpler. I evaluated everything against it. Does this idea/project/job/opportunity/expense support The Dream? Where can I focus my time and energy on a monthly, weekly and daily basis to move me closer to The Dream? The Dream showed up on my calendar and in my bank account — how I spent my time and how I managed my money.

Productivity Hint: I recommend The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan for a step by step system to translate your top priority to your daily To Do.

Step Five: Change As Needed

Dreams that come from deep within us stand strong in the face of life’s ups and downs. But sometimes big things happen and life gets turned upside down. Your dream can be your waymarker when the path seems impossible or your feel like you’ve lost your way. But a word of caution. Don’t blindly cling to the dream. Leave room for the possibility that your dream needs to shift too.

I always go back to Chela’s question: In service to what?


Imagine knowing exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing every day. Imagine confidently saying Yes or No to opportunities because you quickly know if they align with your vision. How would it feel to concretely move toward your biggest aspiration?

It starts with dreaming. Give yourself permission to dream, to find yourdream.

Then unleash it.

Let it lead you.

And watch in wonder as you become the kind of Doer you never thought possible.