To-do lists are a staple of modern life. How would you get everything done otherwise?

There’s just one problem: your to-do list is screwing up your goals.

woman-writing-to-do-list
Photo Credit: Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

How so? A to-do list prioritizes basic daily tasks, as opposed to being productive towards your long-term goals, and it does so in a very specific way. The things that appear to be the most bothersome tend to take priority because we want them out of the way. After all, a to-do list is a constant reminder of what we still haven’t taken care of.

This can be a good thing, but often, it has an unwanted consequence: it turns our priority from tasks that accomplish our goals to ones that simply allow us to survive from one day to the next. Your focus turns to marking things off the list as opposed to making actual progress.

So, what do you do instead? Well, that’s where a success list comes in.

Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.

– Wayne Huizenga

A success list places your focus on completing a few primary tasks each day that allow you make progress towards your long-term goals.

Generally, they’re taken from a much larger vision broken down into smaller pieces, each piece eventually coming together to realize a larger and larger piece until you eventually realize your primary goal.

At this point, you might be worried about whether or not you’ll be able to manage without the constant reminder of a to-do list.

But here’s the thing: you’re going to manage whether you have that to-do list or not.

I can attest to both having and not having a daily to-do list to manage my everyday tasks at several different points in my life and I can say with certainty that a to-do list is more a form of psychological security than it actually helps us manage daily tasks.

However, don’t worry, because I’m not going to ask you to get rid of that to-do list entirely, we’re simply going to modify it a bit so that your priorities shift to allow you to make daily progress towards your goals. Everything else is secondary.

How to create– and get the most from– a success list

So, how do you create a success list? It’s pretty simple, but the difference it makes, you’ll soon notice, is anything but small.

First, it’s important to know that you should look for a time in your day when you can be optimally productive. Each day, you’ll have a few primary tasks you have to accomplish, and if you have a special time each day where you can be fully focused on getting those done you’ll be far more productive.

Once you have that figured out, follow these instructions for creating a simple but highly effective success list:

  1. Decide on a list system: You can keep your list on a simple piece of paper, but I’ve found it to be far more effective if you use a written or digital system, either on a notebook or in a program such as Evernote.
  2. Set three “micro-goals” for today: Block out a section at the top of your page for three micro-goals. If you need to write or type this section in red to prioritize it above the rest of the information below, do that. These are small things you can do today that will help you make progress towards your long-term goals. Examples include: writing X amount of words, making a phone call, working out for X minutes, or completing some other important task. These are often the primary, repeatable tasks that have to do with your craft.
  3. Drop the rest of this week’s important tasks below that: Next, list out all the things you plan to accomplish this week that will help you make progress towards your goals. This is where a digital list you can easily copy and paste has a big advantage over a written one. It will help you more easily plan out your micro-goals for each proceeding day.
  4. And your other to-dos below that: I told you we weren’t going to forget them! But we relegate them to the bottom of the page. In fact, if you want to skip this section altogether and just set reminders on your smartphone for important to-dos, that’s something you can do as well. It will help you block them out from your mind until you really need to get them done (this doesn’t work for all tasks, though).

Structuring a success list in this way doesn’t prioritize certain tasks, it prioritizes one idea over another: progress as opposed to balance. Often, what we’re really doing with a to-do list is warding off a sense of chaos, our head just above water, gasping for air.

However, you’ll find that by shifting your priority to making progress each day, you’ll still get by just fine. Except, now, you’re making progress towards reaching your dreams.


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