An Alternative To The Daily To-Do List

If you are like me, you live life through multiple to-do lists. Enough to-do lists to bind into a book. Events in my calendar, errands on pieces of paper, tasks on a whiteboard, to-dos on apps, ideas on napkins.

The problem with our to-do lists is they tend to be approached from daily increments. The perpetual question we ask ourselves is, “What can I do today?”

Let me answer that question…
Not much.

Have you ever felt you didn’t get enough done in a day? You had this massive list of things you wanted done and only accomplished a few in a day. This happens to me all the time because there is only so much you can do in 24 hours.

Here is a new approach, continue with your daily to-do’s while being realistic about what you can really get done in one day. Move the larger multi-day goals onto weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual goals. On a whiteboard or piece of paper, make headings for the aforementioned time blocks. For the things that always sit on our old to-do list, but never get done because they are bigger projects, move these to the week and month category; it is likely the reason we didn’t get these larger tasks done is because they take multiple days to finish, therefore we don’t get the reward of crossing something off our daily list at the end of the day. Make a progress bar below the longer term goals so that you can get the personal accomplishment feeling of getting ‘er done incrementally. Checking things off the list is a very satisfying thing and making a progress bar enables us to have that same contentment.

Now think about your longer term goals. Where do you want to be in five years? Where do you want to be by the end of this year? Where do you want to be in three months?

Goals in this time-frame likely never made it to your older daily to-do list because daily lists give us a shortsighted focus where we spin our wheels but don’t make much forward progress; we have our head down in daily work and ignore the big picture.

Whenever you plan your smaller increment lists like daily or weekly tasks, always refer to the long term vision for the year (and five year). Always working your way from the longest term goals to smaller and smaller increments. “Always begin with the end in mind.”

The difference between the old way and new way of doing lists can be illustrated in dealing with finances. The old myopic way is like buying stuff on credit card for the short-term benefit while ending up paying triple over the next eight years because of interest. The new broad-vision way is like investing money every month and having a great nest egg at the end of eight years.

Speaking of forward-thinking-future-focus, let’s also talk about the opposite…


With all this looking to the future, we often forget to reflect on our past and where we came from. After all … the past is over, we can’t change it, why think much about it?

For many years, this has been my approach; perhaps this is why my vision is the most farsighted my optometrist has ever seen. But I have come to realize the power of acknowledging the past. Indeed, the past propels us into the future. It provides the foundation to build from. The past can be like rocket fuel pushing us forward.

Here is my suggestion, at the end of every time interval — day, week, month, quarter, year — take some time to reflect about what you accomplished during the period. Write these things down in a separate nice notebook. We can refer to it whenever we feel down or like we aren’t where we should be. We can open our “accomplishment journal” and learn to give ourselves more credit for how far we have come. They can be small victories like socializing with a friend you haven’t seen for a long time or making a decision you have been postponing for months, to large accomplishments like finishing a large multi-stage project or hosting an event for hundreds of people.

Seeing what we have built and how far we have truly come will provide lift to our wings of forward momentum. It provides a certain contentment and satisfaction to give ourselves; it’s like looking at all the things we have erased from the whiteboard and crossed off the paper.

Key Take-Aways

  • Reflect on upon past accomplishments.
  • Keep the big picture in mind.
  • Work in larger time-increments.
  • Utilize progress bars for long term goals.

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