By Janice Sioui

Director of Wellness

Do you rely on a to-do list to keep you on track for your daily goals or is it a parking place for everything you want to get done to feel accomplished and productive?  I have gone back and forth for years, trying to find the best fit for myself and my habits; knowing my own need to feel accomplished and productive.

There’s lots of advice on how to keep a list–with fewer items and more priority.  I do pretty well most of the time, yet I’ve struggled with momentum; the reason for continuing the list and enjoying the freedom that comes with a job well done.  Crossing items off the proverbial ‘to do list’ shows I am productive–so more check marks should mean more momentum right? Wrong. There are two things to dial into first–what is on your list and why.  Then, for real momentum, we must reflect on the day to remember our small wins and ‘feel them’. Feel them, you say?  I teach others to replace their habits and live more fully, so I decided it was time to take my own medicine and really try to feel the win more consistently.

I went for a walk and checked out a local trail that had been on my list to get out and explore in my effort to get more exercise.  As I headed out, I started thinking about the ‘wins’ in my lifetime (that’s a story for another day!), went for a 20 minute jaunt, and returned to share my experience with my associate and coach Mark.  His view? The walk was a win in two ways; that 1) I took it off my list and 2) I allowed myself the thinking space around how I might build more momentum.

The problem with keeping a long list is that we know we won’t finish it–even if we pick all the small things to get out of the way and check more off, there are still the big nuts left to crack and drag us down.  Conversely, if we pick only three things to accomplish, are they the right three things? Might we forget something important and does it include all of what really matters? To be confident in your list, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Why do you keep your list?  It is important to know that some fears will keep you running the proverbial hamster wheel without a treat at the end of the journey.  Does it help you feel more value as a person? I use a list to keep me focused on what I want out of life and move me toward my goals, though formany years, it was the list that used to make me feel accomplished, not the tasks I crossed off.
  2. What is on it?  They should be things you really care about; things that will improve your life and bring you joy.  If it is painting the shutters, consider (if you can’t delegate this one) what you will get to do because you are doing the work (it may be a reward, or it may mean what the money saved will allow you to do).  Maybe you are an artist and this is a statement you want to make! Bottom line, if it is on there, there needs to be a good reason for it.
  3. What words populate it?  Is it weeding the garden or is it freeing the veggies to grow?  It is taking the kids to the store for shoes or is it shoe shopping fun with family?  Is it send a card, or is it your effort to lift someone up today?  We ‘get to do’ a lot of things because we are alive and have been blessed–and the words we choose will have an affect on our psyche.  Choose them with thought–it also creates great conversation when others see what is on it or you ask for support ?

Beyond the basic need of feeling valued, there is a need to stay focused, and there is nothing wrong with using a list to help.  People are relying on you. You have responsibilities and tasks that must be done. Pick three things you have to do as output. Then three items to progress your life the direction you desire.  When you check each off, remember to ask yourself about how it feels to be done. What is your criteria for a ‘win’? What or who did it change/what was the value? What new wisdom is now yours (maybe you realize it shouldn’t have been on the list!)?

Maybe you wouldn’t see a walk as a win.  Maybe checking it off the list is good enough for you.  I’m not here to judge–that was my MO for decades. My question to you is, what if there is more to life than ‘the list’?