Is your todo list too long?

Have you ever felt like you can never manage to finish everything you need to do for the day?
Like you’ve been working on your todo list all day long, only to feel exhausted and unsatisfied in the evening?
If only there were more hours in the day…

Or maybe you should ditch your todo list altogether.

I used to have a loooooong list of things to do every day. It was so overwhelming, I was always looking for new ways to manage it. I kept downloading new apps to make my day easier, but I just ended up having to learn a new tool and feeling the same frustration at the end of the day.
When I realised that moving tasks from one day to the next was kinda like cheating (and my list was growing every day), I switched to paper for a few months. What started as a small bit of paper ended up becoming half an A4 sheet. At the end of the day there were so many tasks left, and most of the ones I had crossed off were going to be back the next day.
I repeated this routine for months, until I looked at the difference between tasks and objectives.

A todo, or task, is defined as
“a piece of work to be done or undertaken.”
An objective, on the other hand is
“something that you plan to do or achieve.”

Do you see the difference already?
Not only a todo sounds a lot more boring than an objective, it also sounds like a reactive choice. An objective, on the other hand, sounds like a deliberate decision.

Start your day with todos, and you’ve lost control of your day right from the start.

You see, when you go straight to your list of tasks without a plan, you are playing a game of catching up with a list of equal priorities. You’ll probably start from the smaller, less intimidating tasks, and work your way down to get as close to the bottom of the list as you can.
But it never happens. There always is another sneaky piece of work to extend the list.
It can feel like you’ve been grinding all day, without actually accomplishing anything.

Start with todos, and you’ve lost control of your day right from the beginning. Click To Tweet

Small, insignificant tasks are also dangerous for another reason: research has shown that our brain rewards us with releasing a pinch of dopamine, a chemical compound that triggers a “feel good” effect. This makes silly tasks incredibly addictive and multitasking a terrible habit: that short-term gratification is paid with a sense of guilt at the end of the day.

Feeling busy is actually another way to procrastinate work that really matters.

brain on todo list

Todo list vs Objectives

To set your day for success, begin with the end in mind.
What can you do to get one step closer to your bigger goals?
If you’re not sure where to start and need a quick reminder of your current focus, you can quickly check your monthly goals (you’ll find them on your smartphone screen).

Instead of jumping into doing, plan first.
If you could only do one thing today, what would make a difference? That is your objective for the day.
Use your imagination to time-travel to the evening and look back on your day: I’m sure “getting to inbox zero” doesn’t qualify.

Once you know what you want to achieve today, do that first.
This will insure you against having a bad day, and will give you more energy and motivation to work on the rest.
It will also mean that, when you want to take a break or finish your working day, you can look back and feel satisfied.

Here are a few reasons to have an objective for your day:

  • Once it’s done, it’s out of the way: todos are often recurrent. Tick it off today and it will be back tomorrow. But when tick of your daily objective, it’s done.
  • Something you can be proud of: I rarely feel proud of having cleaned my desktop folder or researched information on the internet for two hours. But when I do work that matters, I feel goooood.
  • Working on the big picture: when you start working without direction, you are likely to make no progress. But when you have a clear objective, you are working on your long term goals.
  • You are being intentional: instead of just “doing” something or waiting for someone to hijack your day, you are setting your own expectations for your day. By being in charge, you can learn from your best and worst days, and make adjustments along the way.


objectives vs todos

What would feel better: receiving one gold trophy or getting a few pats on the back?
Next time you’re tempted to jump into your todo list, remember your answer.

What is the recurring task you waste the most time on?
Send me an email and let me know, so I can better help you in my future posts.

— Matt

inbox management