Tweaking the To Do List

I have been a list person for as long as I can remember. My lists ranged from the mundane “take a shower” to the extreme “pay off debt”. But one thing they all had in common was that they were lists of things I had to complete before I could do anything I wanted. As an obsessive list maker I also had a list for those other things that I’d like to do; go for walks, read a book, see friends, etc , but this list was my day dreaming – they were only to be realized after all the “To Do” lists were complete. The rational of course was that “Once I finish x,y,z, then I can do all of these wonderful things that will make me happy and healthy”. Funny, but no matter how hard I worked, that day never came.

For a long time I didn’t see the problem with this; I just accepted this as the way the world works, and continued to be frustrated with the amount of crap to be done, and my inability to get through it quick enough so I could finally move onto the good stuff.

Once I started concentrating on self-care, these healthy things (go for walk, meditate) were added to my To Do list. It was a step in the right direction, but they still ended up being things that weren’t “Have-To’s”. So, if I didn’t get the dishes done, they didn’t happen.

There was one day in particular that I remember. I was frantically cleaning the house all day and before I knew it, the day was over and I hadn’t finished in time to go for my walk. I had completed everything on my to do list, except for this walk. When my husband got home from work I proclaimed in frustration that “I feel like I didn’t do anything today”. Clearly, this wasn’t true, but what i came to realize is that because I didn’t get to do the one fulfilling activity, I felt empty.

At the time I felt like a failure because I didn’t make it through my To Do list in time to get to the healthy walk that I had been looking forward to. The real issue, of course, is that I should have been prioritizing my To Do list very differently. I have since learned that you need to start with the “make it or break it” activities; the ones that have the biggest impact on your well-being. Sure, having the dishes done is nice – but I now know that if I get to meditate and spend time with friends, I will still go to bed with a smile on my face- even if the sink is full of dirty dishes.

Replay the same type of day, but this time I was aware just how important that walk was to me. I knew I needed to prioritize it so I started my day by going for a walk. The result? I felt fulfilled and I was able to complete the rest of the tasks without the pressure to rush and the fear that I would end my day feeling depleted.

So first, make sure to add those fulfilling activities to your To Do list,  if you don’t already,  and then prioritize them.

Sometimes I make a “Have-To’s” category and now I make sure to add those “Make it or Break it” activities to that section. Is it just as important as paying the power bill? Damn straight it is.

The next thing to look at is the reason for doing anything on your To Do list. This is all about prioritizing based on VALUES.

live your values

Now, before you can truly do this you need to clarify what YOUR values are. If you don’t yet have a good idea, I encourage you to take a look at InspiredLivingMedical’s blog posts: (Clarifying Values) and (What we all need).

Over months of exploration I have discovered that my values are; TRIBE, CREATIVITY, GROWTH, HEALTH, BEING PRESENT, CONTRIBUTION, as well as AUTHENTICITY, VULNERABILITY, and COURAGE.

So what do these things have to do with that list you scribble on a post-it Monday morning? The answer is EVERYTHING!

For every item I write on my To Do list, beside it I write the VALUE in it.

“What’s the value in this?”

Adding values to your To Do list highlights the importance of every activity; clearly marking them so you can see why you are doing the things you do, and this then helps you prioritize.

When you are dedicated to living your values, it’s harder to ignore those To Do items that may at first seem frivolous, but are indeed very aligned with your values – and therefore should not be pushed to the back burner.

For example, if you see “Go to movies with friends” and you are strapped for time you may think to yourself “Oh, I can just skip that”; but when it’s written “Go to movies with friends – TRIBE it’s harder to scratch it off because you know TRIBE is important to you.  By having the VALUE right in your face, you can make more informed decisions on how you spend your time, and ensure you are living your values.

Even if you choose to remove a valuable activity to complete a less valuable activity (washing dishes), you will at least be more aware of the choice you are making, and have a good understanding of why you may feel more depleted. The more aware we are, the more we can do about it.

Comparing your list of values to your To Do list is also helpful. If one of your values is CREATIVITY, but you either don’t have a creative item on your to-do list, or you never prioritize it, this gives you the opportunity to change that.

Here’s an example of one of my To Do lists from before Christmas. It’s messy, but it’ll give you an idea of what it can look like.


If you have a chance to try any of these strategies please let me know how they work for you (perhaps even a To Do List show and tell??). I’d love to hear about your experiences and any other tips you have for making To Do lists.


2 thoughts on “Tweaking the To Do List”

  1. As usual, an interesting post. But, I find this one actually quite challenging. Your call for a ‘To Do’ lists is good, and I want to do it… but then I get this sense of unease or fear, because i’m afraid I won’t get done things in my day that I actually value. It’s as if it would be easier to just be ignorant, and not objectively look at my own actions, and I fear finding out what Im actually missing out on. What if I make a list and its mundane or what if it does not adhere to the values I want for my life. I guess its better to find out how i’m spending my time…. but also, its a bit hard. I don’t want to feel like I’m failing my values I guess is what I”m trying to say. hmmmm….

    1. Sarah, I think your reaction is completely understandable. Awareness is powerful, but it can also be uncomfortable. Knowing what my values are, such as being authentic, has lead me down a more authentic path which I find very fulfilling; but now, when I’m not being authentic, it feels horrible. I won’t lie- it does make things more uncomfortable at times, but it also gives you the opportunity to experience a lot of good.
      It’s important to look at this whole experience as feedback, and not evaluation. Even if it turns out you don’t have a lot on your To Do list that aligns with your values (which is very likely when starting this process), this gives you feedback on what that feels like and how you might change things. Try to see it as an opportunity, instead of an evaluation that “you are failing your values”. You need to be patient with yourself and practice self-compassion (easier said then done of course).
      I think this process may highlight for you how some of those things you see as mundane, are in fact ways you are living your values.
      I wish you all the best with this process, and know that it is perfectly okay if you aren’t ready to try the To Do list; that’s just more feedback 🙂

Comments are closed.