I want to talk to-do lists today – specifically, why I chose to quit my to-do list addiction for good and what strategy I replaced it with to create some incredible results in my life!
So for those of you might not be aware – a to do list is basically a list of things that you have to do — pretty self-explanatory!
There are different variations to these lists. Some people include levels of priority, some include due dates, but at it’s most basic form, it’s a collection of all the things you’ve got to do in a given period of time.
Now let me just start by saying that I love creating lists. I made Summer bucket lists for the Christmas holidays in high school. I made a “end of high school” bucket list and I have a list of all the books I want to read, movies I want to see, places I want to visit, experiences I want to have – you name it, I’ve probably listed it!
I also love being organised and so to-do lists seemed like the perfect marrying of two things that I love. But boy, was I wrong.
I kept up my To-Do List addiction during high school and all throughout university. I even employed it in my full-time job and well into the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. But something that I didn’t realise until very recently is that To-Do Lists aren’t the saving grace or the golden standard that we might’ve initially believed.
To-Do Lists cause stress
We’re taught that creating to-do lists are THE way to get organised.
That at the beginning of a day, you list out all of the things that you need to get done so that you can systematically cross them off a list. And yes, there are some benefits to listing down your to-dos:
- You can focus on one task at a time, knowing that you won’t forget anything because its all written down.
- It gives you clarity on what you need to do next – you’re never spending precious time or mental capacity trying to figure out what’s next on your agenda.
- Getting it all out of your head and in front of you in the real world can also significantly lessen your stress because you’re not building it up to be bigger in your head.
However, despite all of these benefits, I still made the decision to quit my to-do list addiction, and if you’re listening to this podcast now, then I’m urging you to do the same.
Now you might be wondering why in the heck I would be trying to convince you to drop your to-do lists. Isn’t any form of organisation better than none? Well, that’s arguable. And let me tell you why.
Number #1 Reason Why I Quit My To-Do List Addiction is because : To-Do Lists are never ending.
Think about it. Even if you write a “daily to do list”, you’ll never actually run out of things to do.
If you ask yourself the question: “What do I need to do today?”, your brain can come up with a tonne of answers because that’s the question you’re asking it. There’s a better question that you should be asking and I’ll get to that in a minute. But what you need to know now is this : life doesn’t pause to give you time — playing “catch up” is what makes you feel like you’re falling behind and to-do lists, in their most basic form, are designed to keep us feeling like there’s just too much to do.
Number #2 Reason Why I Quit My To Do List Addiction is because : it makes us feel busier than we actually are – and that’s not a good thing.
When we rely on to-do lists to tell us what we’re doing next, we get stuck in a state of “do this, then onto the next thing”.
Rather than making the focus on doing quality and meaningful work, or even being present in the moment and giving it your all, to-do lists encourage us to get this done quickly because “there’s just so much more I have to do”.
I call it a to do list ADDICTION because that’s what it can often become. Most of the people that I speak to that LOVE to do lists say they love the feeling of crossing things off their list.
So you know what happens?
They add things to their list that dont need to be there all so that they can cross it off. Or, they half-ass their way through tasks just so that they can say that it’s done. What is meant to be a tool to help us perform at our best becomes the thing that we end up being controlled by.
Reason #3 for Why I Quit My To Do List Addiction is because : it puts us in a perpetual state of feeling like we’re running out of time.
During a ladies coaching program called Unleash Her Power Within, one of the women in the group typed something into our Zoom chat box that literally, and I mean LITERALLY, changed my life:
She said: “The Universe isn’t in a rush, you are.”
Like literally mind-blown. I realised in that moment that a good majority of the things that were on my to do list that felt urgent and pressing and super important only felt that way because of a self-imposed deadline. Granted, there are some external deadlines that we dont have any control over. But in speaking to fellow big dreamers, I’m realising it’s often the deadlines we give ourselves that stress us out the most.
So one of my daily incantations has become: The Universe isn’t in a rush, and neither am I. It’s not an invitation to be lazy or to relinquish the responsibility I have over my own life. Rather, it’s a reminder that I can work hard and also trust that there is time.
Point 2: Daily Outcomes over Daily Actions Support Creativity
And so all of this might be sounding pretty convincing. At this point you might be saying, “Yep, cool Sam – to-do lists are crap. So what happens now?”
Well, like any bad habit or addiction, it needs to be replaced by something more empowering. And so, what I’ve learned to do is to choose DAILY OUTCOMES over DAILY ACTIONS. So what exactly does this look like?
Ask yourself a better question: What is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for me to get done today?
Choose ONE thing – one daily focus. We choose ONE because there will always be things fighting for your attention
There’s a Confucious quote that states: “He who chases two rabbits catches neither”.
The challenge is to choose The MOST important thing. It’s not that you’re choosing ONE action and you only take ONE action for the whole day, but rather you have ONE focus – and a number of actions that you can choose from to help you achieve that outcome.
For example, if my outcome for the day was to organise my room. I could break that outcome down into a number of things, like wash my sheets, fold clothes, go through my closet, go through my books, throw out old papers, whatever else. But rather than having 10 items on a “to do list”, I have ONE clear focus with a number of steps I can take to achieve that ONE focus.
1 outcome vs. 50 “to-dos” allows our brain to “chunk” this information, helping us feel less overwhelmed. Even though there might still be a number of actions you want to take, by perceiving your day with ONE FOCUS (i.e. organising my room) rather than 50 tasks (i.e. washing my sheets, folding clothes, going through my closet etc.), we almost trick our brain into thinking that we dont have a lot to do – we only have ONE.
Point 3: Sunday Planning as an alternative gives you a Birdseye view
Now this works on a day to day basis – but how do you choose the best thing to focus on on any given day?
One of my favourite things to do (and yes, I can hear some of my friends calling “nerd” at this haha) is to do my Sunday Planning Routine.
Every Sunday I block out between 30-60 minutes to go through a number of things that help me envision the week ahead.
Sunday Planning allows you to make plans as your Best Self (not your tired/stressed/overwhelmed/lazy self)
Without being in the thick of it, being in the moment of feeling stressed or tired with people fighting for your attention, engaging in a Sunday Planning Routine allows you to pick in advance your main OUTCOME for each day ( and you can do this with due dates and deadlines in mind because you’re looking at your week with a birds eye view.)
Sunday Planning allows you to make time for what’s IMPORTANT rather than what’s URGENT, which will also encourage you to make space to produce your best work without the stress of feeling like you’re running out of time.
Stay tuned for a future post where I break down my entire Sunday Planning Process!