Why Your To‐Do List is the Enemy

June 23, 2016

to-do-list

There’s nothing like the exhilarating feeling of checking off another task on your to-do list! I’ve seen people actually nod and smile to themselves at their desk when getting another check in a box. Yes, you’ve done it! I can almost hear the parade being thrown.

We’re Busier Than Ever Before ‐ AND We’re Failing More Often

In a recent survey I conducted of all the owners and business people who give me their time and attention, the number one and number two concerns/obstacles to people’s success were listed as follows:

  1. Focus ‐ I’m having trouble finding the time to do what needs doing.
  2. Fear of Failure ‐ I’m worried that I won’t accomplish what I set out to achieve.

See our post called How to Show Time Sucks Who's Boss for tips on how to improve your focus at work.


The first one wasn’t a surprise to me. Most everyone says they have focus issues. You probably do, right, or you wouldn’t be reading Workfront right now. You’d be working on a project. (But hey, we’re both here. Stick with me a moment longer.)

That second issue, “fear of failure” struck me. It hit me in the feels, as the grown‐ups‐pretending‐to‐say‐what‐kids‐say tend to say. I didn’t expect it. And yet, when I looked at the rest of the information I collected in my little survey, I immediately understood what was going on.

We’ve Lost Sight of the Tie Between Goals and our Day to Day

We work a lot. We work more than ever before. We’re logging many more hours, processing mountains more email and other communications.

We’re just DOING lots and lots more than ever before. But we’re less happy, less certain that we’re accomplishing our goals, and less sure of what we need.

Want to know the enemy in this story? The bad guy?

The to-do list is the enemy.

Like a GPS with No Waypoints Programmed In

Your to‐do list is tied to “things that need doing today” but NOT tied to “things that will advance my stated goals.” It’s that simple, really. I could stop there, but I won’t. Because I should explain it for you more.

Let’s use a life goal. Let’s say you have 20 pounds to lose. Or 30? Or 50? Doesn’t matter. You say, “I’ll eat healthy, go to the gym, drink more water, get more rest.” Sure. Great.

And then it’s Cheryl’s going away party and you have to have a piece of cake or you look like a jerk.

The cake of today is the “you’re not working to achieve your goal” of a month from now.

Say This With Me

Your day is your week is your month is your year. That’s the mantra I make people involved with me say all the time. It is as simple as it sounds. What you’re doing today impacts what you’ll accomplish this week.

Bucket up all the todays into a month, and then stack twelve of these up, and what you did TODAY reflects on your full year.

Your day is your week is your month is your year.

Three Hours

I feel pretty smart. Cal Newport (who is definitely smart) released the book Deep Work, where he says we’re distracting ourselves to death and that we need three hours of “deep work” to accomplish more of our defined “big things we want to do” stuff.

I feel smart because when I launched my 20 Minute Plan JUMPSTART program, we picked three hours, too. (Only, I just picked it because it seemed like the best number.)

The premise is drop dead simple: Split three hours into 20-minute blocks. That’s nine blocks of 20 minutes each.

Graphically, it looks like this:

To-Do List Jumpstart

Lovely, right?

In those 20-minute blocks, put whatever tasks you want to accomplish that will move your stated and most important goals along. If you’re writing a book, use two or three blocks and put in “write.”

If you’re implementing Agile marketing at the company, maybe you take one or two of those slots per day to read through the implementation guides and write out notes.

The purpose of those three hours of time (split into nine 20‐minute blocks) is to use them to focus on what most needs doing TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR STATED GOALS.

This isn’t client work. This isn’t to‐do work. This is “stuff that moves me forward” work.

Make the To‐Do List a Second Class Citizen in Your Life

We all have lots to do. You’re working harder than ever. There’s so much information rushing all over and around you.

Give yourself three hours a day of focus on your stated goals and you’ll see the productivity increase. I’ve been running my business like this for the last two years and it’s changed everything. I spend much more time working on what’s important and not on what’s on some arbitrary list.

You can do the same.


Download our free guide, Get Time Back To Work On What Is Most Important, for more ideas on how you can regain control of your time and be more efficient.

Chris Brogan is CEO of Owner Media Group, Inc, who delivers business systems for personal leadership. He’s the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting. You can learn more about the 20 Minute Plan JUMPSTART he referenced here.

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