Most professionals—63%, according to a LinkedIn study—use to-do lists, butmany people wrongly conflate them with goals. In this video, consider how daily activities—the kind that are on your to-do list—can and should fit in with your overarching goals.
- You probably have a to-do list. I know I do, and in fact, according to a LinkedIn study, 63% of professionals also have them. On one hand, it's a great way to keep track of your tasks and make sure nothing gets forgotten, but on the other, to-do lists just aren't that effective. In fact, one startup that offered a to-do list functionality studied its users habits and discovered that a full 41% of tasks that were inputted never got done. That's not an amazing success rate.
So, is it possible to use to-do lists effectively, and how do they connect to our goals, anyway? First, let's start with some definitions and distinctions. A to-do list is a document, written or online, that helps you track specific tasks that need to happen. That is absolutely not the same thing as your goals, and you'll make yourself miserable if you conflate them. Your goals are high-level strategic priorities. You want to try to align your to-do list, those pesky, day-to-day tasks, with your goals, not the other way around.
For most people, there are three types of tasks that make it onto your to-do list. The first are what I call maintenance activities. These aren't strategic priorities, alas, but they have to be done. Look at my to-do list just now, one task that is there is to make a dentist appointment. That's not exactly a big-picture activity, but it really does need to happen. The secret here is to get these minor, stupid little tasks done as quickly as possible. If you have a spare 10 minutes in your day because a meeting ended early, use it for that.
The second category of tasks on your to-do list is what I call manifestations of strategic priorities. These are the nitty-gritty actions that make your strategic priorities real. For instance, I'm launching a new program soon, which is a huge area of focus for me, and on my to-do list right now are editing video testimonials and updating the sales page. Those are specific tasks, but ones that are critically important because they help me advance my top goal. These types of activity are where you should be spending as much time as possible.
The third type of task on your to-do list is other people's priorities for you. These activities don't map to your strategic priorities, and they don't even reflect things that are just necessary, like going to the dentist. Instead, it's requests that other people want to rope you into, like providing edits for their report or doing an informational interview with their cousin or sitting in on a meeting you don't really need to be part of. These are the tasks that you need to zealously guard against. You can't get out of all of them.
In some cases, you may owe the person a favor or, in some cases, it's your boss asking, so even if it doesn't align with your highest and best use, you need to suck it up and do it. But where possible, interrogate the request. See if it's really necessary or if it can be handled in a faster or easier way, like sending someone a helpful article instead of meeting with them, or simply bowing our because your head's down on a big project. To-do lists are a great tool and one that gives me, personally, a lot of peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks, but the key is making sure you're running your to-do list through the prism of your top goals.
You can't let your to-do list run you.
- Setting your goals
- How many goals should you have?
- The difference between a goal and a to-do list
- Building systems to help you succeed
- Making success a way of life
- Learning to ignore the unimportant
- Rewarding yourself for success