Why you should throw your to do list away

Why you should throw your to do list away

We all use them.  We write them religiously.  We focus on them throughout the day.  We fester over them and fret when we aren’t able to cross anything off.  But I’m here to tell you today why you should throw your to do list away . I’m not talking about the type of to do list you make to insure that you get all steps of a task completed, like our cleaning checklist or a party-planning checklist.  I’m talking about that list you make for yourself that says: go shopping, clean the litter box, pick up prescriptions, call mom, make cupcakes for Freddy’s class party, etc.  And I’m going to suggest you throw your to do list away and create something different; I’m going to suggest that you create an outcome goal.

First, decide what outcome you would like to see happen.

What do you want from this day?  What would you like to see happen by day’s end?  For most of us this list might include these things:

  • I’d like to see my kids happily eat a healthy meal
  • I’d like to have quiet time with my husband after the kids are in bed (on schedule.)
  • I’d like to go to bed with the house in order, so it feels better when I wake up.
  • I’d like to let my mom know I’m thinking of her today.

Why you should throw your to do list away Most of us want outcomes.  We don’t really care about checking things off on a checklist.  We want something of value to happen.  And it’s with those things that I’m going to suggest you start formulating your daily plan.  Not a to do list.

But how will I get my outcomes without a list?

First things first.  You decide your outcomes.  You can do this the morning of, or you can do this the night before.   I do mine a few ways.  I have my yearly outcomes decided.  Those are broken down into monthly outcomes, then weekly outcomes.   I tend to look at weeks as a whole and days as little stepping stones to get my overall outcomes for the week. You don’t need to start there.   Just start with today.  Practice this method with day-to-day focus first and then if it feels right, move on to weekly, monthly, yearly.  But get good at doing just today first.   So start with deciding what you want today.  Let’s use the examples from above.   Now, had I had an old-style to do list, it might have included shopping and prepping a meal.  It might have included getting the kids’ homework done.  It might have included cleaning up after dinner.  It may have even included “call mom.” But do those things truly convey what I hoped to achieve? Why you should throw your to do list away No.  And would have getting those things accomplished in their most basic form have brought me closer to the life I want to live?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  Because I was just focused on checking off a task.  I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture. What if I had “shop for food” and “make dinner” on my list, and I was focused on doing that, and because of that I missed an opportunity to find a recipe the kids could help me cook, which would make them more invested in eating it, and would cause us to have some educational and bonding moments, which would cause dinner to be a happier atmosphere and would cause my kids to happily eat a healthy meal without complaining …which then lead to a more peaceful evening of less arguing and kids getting their things done and to be on schedule, so I could have quality time with my husband. See what just happened there?

It’s the outcome that’s important.  Not the tasks.

Obviously these are very basic examples, but let’s look at the next.  What if I had “call mom” on my list and I decided to try to cram that call in while I was trudging through the supermarket–half focused on what I was saying, but getting that task checked off.   Or, what if instead I took 2 or 3 minutes to find a beautiful picture I could post on mom’s facebook wall and tell her how the picture made me think of her and how much I love her.    Which version of activities would achieve the outcome that I wanted better?  The outcome-focused, of course.   And it didn’t take any more time than the to-do-list focused task, and it was more enjoyable to complete. Why you should throw your to do list away Lastly, for comparison sake, what if I was heading through the end of a dinner I prepared myself after a long, hard day of checking things off my task list, dealing with kids who didn’t want to eat what I made, which lead into an argumentative atmosphere during homework time, which made showers and bedtime run late, which lead to tension throughout the house, and no time to spend with the hubby because I still had to clean the darned kitchen and fold the laundry before I could head to bed.   Or… What if I had been focused on outcomes, sent mom a nice picture, made her feel special and loved, found a great family-friendly recipe, had the kids help me prep, ate a peaceful happy dinner, which lead into a peaceful time of homework, everybody got things done in time to get to bed on schedule, the kitchen got cleaned in a jiffy, and I was able to spend quiet time with hubby, and everyone slept peacefully and happily, and I woke to a nice clean slate the next day?

Can you see how a shift in focus can make all the difference?

Can you see how by focusing on tasks instead of outcomes you might miss opportunities to create what it is that your really wanted?  Can you see how focusing on outcomes can lead you to feel more fulfilled?  Try it for a week, and come back here and let me know how it felt for you.  I’m curious to hear your feedback. Also, before you leave, for another way to find joy in your day-to-day routine, be sure to check out this post.

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  1. Amazing,truthful article. My list seemed to mock my inability to get it completed. Therefore, I started a what I have accomplished today list. I didn’t think about what I truly wanted.
    Thank you.

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