Kill Your To Do List Before It Kills You.

Personal Development, Productivity
Martial Artist

What you are about to read could revolutionize not only your time and task management, but your whole life. This article will show you specific, easy to implement and easy to follow steps to:

  • be massively more productive than you are right now
  • enjoy your whole life much more
  • and end each day with a feeling of satisfaction and victory.

What’s the Problem? You or the System?

You’ve heard it from the experts all those years. You must keep a to do list. You followed their advice, but despite their promises of making you happy and free from all the burdens of guilt, do you still procrastinate on those important A-tasks? Do you still feel overwhelmed by all those tasks you’ve got to do? Do you feel like there is no end in sight, since there are more new tasks coming at you and no matter how hard you work, your lists are getting longer and longer?

But wait … maybe you aren’t the problem, like your guilt feelings have stated for all those years? Maybe the problem is with the wrong system itself.

Maybe your to do list is even keeping you away from achieving much more and at the same time feeling good about it. Maybe your to do list increases your fear and agony and even nourishes your procrastination habit more than anything else? Maybe it is slowly killing all the joy, ambitions and excitement that you should enjoy while living and working? Maybe it is time to throw those old beliefs about to do lists out of the window and find out a better way? Are you ready for that?

I could show you a better way to enjoy working at your tasks again, installing new personal power within you and enabling you to end each day with a great feeling of satisfaction and victory.

But before I can do that, I must show you, what is wrong with the old paradigm of to do lists.

The Old Paradigm – to Do Lists, the Carrot and the Stick

What Does To Do Mean to You?

Now let’s first start by finding out, what the TO DO in to do list stands for. Take a look at the tasks in your list and ask for each one the following question:

Is this a task, that I HAVE TO DO or is it a task that I WANT TO DO?

How do you feel about those tasks? If you are like most of us, you could easily write above your list: “THINGS I HAVE TO DO … but don’t want to”. Isn’t that how you feel about a lot of tasks on this list? How many of these tasks would be there by tomorrow, if I would give you all the money and time that you would ask for, and you could leave your job and all dependencies and become free in all areas of life? How many tasks from this list would still be there? I guess a lot (if not most) you would kick out with a smile.

Who Is in Control?

If you answered that TO DO for you feels like “I HAVE TO DO” then you definitely feel out of control in your life. Life for you feels like others are dictating you what you have to do, through what they expect from you. You feel obliged to do things. Most of the things you don’t want to do, but you do them simply because you fear the consequences of disappointing others.

However, if you answered that TO DO for you feels like “I want to do” then you experience a sense of control in your life. Even if others state their expectancies you decide for yourself what to do and what not to do.

In essence “I have to do” gives the power away and enslaves you, while “I want to do” expresses your inner power and frees you through being true to yourself.

How Much Do You Enjoy Those Tasks?

If you already have a to do List, take a look at it and assess how many of those tasks YOU really want to do (and the only reason is because doing those things would make you feel good). Just for fun you could give every task there a rating from 1 to 10 on how much you would enjoy doing it (10 meaning it would be so enjoyable you would pay a million bucks to be allowed to do it and 1 meaning you dislike it so much, that others need to threaten you with severe punishments to get you to do it).

If you don’t feel enough joy in your life it could be that you don’t do enough things that you really enjoy.

The Carrot and the Stick

Now the old paradigm is, that we are lazy creatures and need motivation in the form of the carrot and the stick to get us going. Installing different leverages of pain and pleasure is the way that people have always used to manipulate each other. I have devoted a whole article – 4 Steps to Stop Others from Manipulating You Like a Puppet on a String – on that, and you need to understand these methods of threatening you before you can become free. In the same article, I also stated why importance and urgency are mostly threats of others to keep us going and therefore not good to tell us what we really want.

The New Paradigm – Decisions and Commitment

Decisions – the Way of Free Choice – or Living in Reality and Still Enjoying Life

Now wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to do things that we wanted and none of what others want from us? Well, this is obviously an illusion. There will always be people who want you to behave in a specific way and expect you to do certain things. And you do the same with other people too. So we have to find a way to balance this. And therefore, make sure you get your paycheck next week too.

Beside “I WANT TO DO …” and “OTHERS WANT ME TO DO …” there is a 3rd way. This way is the way of making a decision for yourself. It is the way of “I DECIDE TO DO …”.

Now you might not enjoy doing your income taxes, but you can make a conscious decision to do it anyway because you can see a reason why to do it. Making a conscious decision always comes in hand with finding a good WHY.

“Why is it beneficial for me to do it?”.

That is the way your brain evaluates those things. And when it comes up with a good enough why, it enables you to decide to do something although you might not enjoy the process itself.

But you will enjoy the benefits you get from it.

So doing your income tax might feel like a pain in the a**, but once it is done you feel relieved. Don’t you know it already?

Fear and Procrastination – the blocks to a fulfilled life

But why are you not doing it? In one word … FEAR.

  • You are afraid that your boss will fire you, when you deny working on weekends.
  • You are afraid to tell your loved ones, that you need to work over the weekend for a certain time to increase their quality of life in the long run.

So you procrastinate, because that is the one method that your subconscious mind tries, to keep that pressure and fear away from you. Procrastination is not a sign of you being lazy. It is a sign of feeling overwhelmed and threatened. It fears paying the (possibly only imagined) price or consequence of a task at hand. It is a subconscious approach of coping with a painful situation. However, it might not be the most useful approach in solving the situation.

How to solve this whole dilemma and escape procrastination?

What you must achieve is to get yourself back in a situation of control. You must know what you want to do, AND what you decide to do because you want the beneficial results of the tasks. You must know what price you are willing to pay for each task, and you must communicate with your subconscious about it, so that it loses or lowers its fear about the consequences.

There is one key to do all of this – DECIDE!

You can make a decision to do something:

  • although you might not like it
  • although you are afraid of it or where it might lead you to

That is the power of decision. When you combine it with the power of knowing what you want to do and why you want to do things, you can become a free person, even if you have to do things you don’t like or be afraid of.

For those tasks, that you hesitate to do from your whole heart – find out, what price you have to pay in order to get it done. Then find out, why you want to do it. When you have these 2 factors you can consciously decide, whether you want to do something or not.

Now without anymore theory – let’s jump into the practical application of all this.

IOD+C – the New System of Personal Control

The method I am about to share with you is abbreviated to 3 letters, standing for the 3 lists and the 3 areas of focus that make up the whole system.

  • I: What do I want?
  • O: What do Others want from me?
  • D+C: What do I Decide to do and Commit to do?

It is a simple system, which can be easily installed, followed by and adapted to nearly any way that you want to keep it.

Here is how to design your new system for freedom, focus and self-control.

The IOD+C System revealed

Make 3 lists. These could be 3 sheets of paper in a ring binder divided by tabs. It could also be implemented with most electronic software programs and gadgets (I use a tool called Notebook by Circus Ponies on my Mac for it, but nearly any electronic task system could easily be adapted to it). Alternatively, you can use this with a simple text editor or word processor.

Create 3 lists and on the top of them write:

List 1: I = Things I want to do List 2: O = Things Others want me to do List 3: D+C = Thinks I Decide to do and Commit myself to do

List 1 and 2 (I and Others) are the Source Lists and List 3 (Decide and Commit) is the Action List.

The Source Lists

These 2 lists are your containers for storing all tasks that might come to you.

“List 1: I”

On “List 1: I” you write down all the things that YOU really want to do.

A tip:

  • Listen to yourself and feel if you would get real pleasure from doing it. If you wouldn’t get pleasure from doing and/or from achieving it, it shouldn’t go on this list.

“List 2: O”

On “List 2: O” you write down all the things other people want you to do. It could be that the majority of your tasks go in here.

Some tips:

  • You should begin the tasks with the name of the person wanting you to do it.
  • The focus of these tasks is, that others want you to do these things more than you want to do them. As an example: for most people doing income taxes would clearly go here.

On List 1 and 2 you also make a quick note on what the price to pay is and why you want to do it. If there is a REAL due date (not something that you or others make up to get you going) you could also note it here.

Example: You could write on List 2: “IRS: Doing income tax – Price: 4 hours – Why: I want to feel the relief of being on time with it, and I look forward to my tax return”

Note that you should only write down, why YOU want to do it, and not why others want you to do it.

The Action List

“List 3: D+C”

On “List 3: D+C” you write down for each day which tasks from List 1 and 2 you decide and commit to do on that day.

Some tips:

  • Please don’t overfill this list and don’t think that just because a task seems urgent, that would mean it must go in here. No – drop urgency and drop importance if possible at all, since those reflect most of the times the importance & urgency of others, not your own.
  • This system should not help you by adding even more stuff into your life. More stuff or things to do and more productivity will not help you to lead a happy life. Read this excellent article from zenhabits.com: Get Less Done: Stop Being Productive and Enjoy Yourself.
  • You write down only the things that you really commit to achieve that day. So don’t put 20 tasks there, but select only a handful. If you finish this list early, you can go to your other 2 lists and pull out other tasks there again. Or you can enjoy your leisure time and end your day soon with a feeling of victory.
  • It is of vital importance that you end your day with a feeling of control and victory so you should really go for finishing your daily D+C List. End your day with a small routine of celebrating your victory (a pad on your back or a little reward).
  • If you need more than one day for a task, write down only how much time you would commit on that day for the task and then do it.
  • If you finished a task, you strike it through on both lists (D+C and the Source List).

That is the whole system. I told you it would be easy to implement and maintain. But don’t let its simplicity fool you – it is a powerful system and has the ability to change your life. Give it 30 days and you will see miracles happen to your productivity, feeling of happiness and personal power. Give it a try – and report back to me.

Now what … FAQ addition to the rules

Q: What if I didn’t finish my D+C List? A: You should really try to finish. If you cannot finish it, because something really urgent (like an accident or an ill child) comes in your way, then that’s fine. But don’t let this happen due to non-urgent, non-important stuff or helping other people resolve problems, that fall into their responsibility.

If you continuously fail to finish your D+C list, you should better go for even fewer tasks on your D+C list first. Remember if you finish your D+C list early, you can always add more during the day. Keep in mind, that the important thing is to recreate your trust in yourself with this list. By making a commitment and keeping it, you will go stronger in your decisiveness as well as your personal power. Every day that you end with a kept promise to yourself is like making a big deposit in your mental account of trust. Not keeping your commitment for several days will reduce that deposit pretty fast. Don’t let that happen.

Q: What about things no one else wants from me, but that I still feel more like I have to do them, like cleaning the house? A: With those tasks, you shouldn’t write down the boring things that you dread to do. You should better write down why you want to do it (remember a strong “why” will always make it happen), what it is that you want in the end. You could write. “Clean the house and enjoy the power and peacefulness of a clean house in order”. You should always write down why you want to do things and not why you don’t want to do it. Power follows Focus. So decide where you want to put your focus on.

Q: How about Projects? A: You could use special lists for projects but each task must reflect, whether it is something you want or others want from you. Then you can decide to put it on your Action List (List 3 – D+C) for that given day or not. I have separate lists for each bigger client of mine. I also have separate lists for bigger projects.

Q: How about Weekly Planning? A: I am a big fan of weekly planning too – so after a while of following this above mentioned system, I would advise you to add another piece of paper, where you write down what you decide and commit to do for that week. With this you have a weekly D+C List and a daily D+C List. On your daily D+C-List you first put those tasks that you want to do from your weekly D+C-List and then could add more from List 1 (I) and List 2 (Others).


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31 comments… add one
  • Very helpful and informative. It’s a little long, but definitely worth the read. I love the IOD+C concept; it’s something that I’ve been doing with my own to-do lists lately without knowing it.

    Something worth mentioning: I think that your source lists will (and should) fluctuate in relative importance to each other depending on your situation. At work, for example, the “O” list might be pretty important if you want to keep your boss happy. On the weekend, however, your “I” list might take precedent.

    Thank you for the great, in-depth post! Something for me to keep in mind next time I write on the topic of to-do lists!

  • Patrick

    @Jeffrey Tang – You are right it is not that the I-List is more worth than the O-List, but you need to deal with them in their own ways in different contexts. While being on work you should focus your decision power on tasks on the O-List. But still it comes to you deciding to do it, and feel good about it. If you don’t make this step you will feel like a slave who has to do things.

  • I hope one day, through innovation, I can completely rid myself of the O-List. When I first started the post, I thought this was where you were going. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, even if it costs you your job. Bold, but hey, why not be bold? But, I was pleased to see when it came back down to reality.

    • Patrick

      @Jeffrey (another one): Yes I also like those lofty heights of daydreaming, where I would be in a situation of ultimate freedom and only doing what I like. But reality is just lurking around the corner. And with hindsight I am very often glad it is, because others want me to do things that are very often beneficial for me although I didn’t realized it in the moment. And an attitude of gratitude is also an essential thing we must develop in our lives. My strong guess is that we could not develop this gratitude all by ourselves and egotistic free will.

  • I liked your post, Patrick. You should probably create some type of an e-book or guide based on this system.
    I agree that if you Decide to do a task then it will be much easier to finish this project. I am currently self-employed that is why most of the tasks on my to-do list fall in the category of D+C. I see the importance of the task and benefits of this task for me. As a result I can easily commit myself to doing these tasks.

    • Patrick

      @Anastasiya: Thank you – I might do an e-book in the nearby future on this and other topics. Stay subscribed and you will get the info first.
      I’ve been self-employed now for about 20 years, and found it essential to my peace of mind to. But I know others who don’t want to go in that direction and they too can use this technique and enjoy its benefits.

  • Interesting new approach on a task list. In the end though aren’t you still making more task lists…just approaching it differently? I like the different mind set, that is a great start.

    I was trained a while back through a consulting company to approach things a little differently, since task lists usually can’t contain all our tasks in this day and age. Here’s my food for thought…

    Use a tool to capture what you have to do…a list yes, but the goal of this capture tool is to move whats on that list as fast as possible to a calendar. The calendar must have a reminder feature, an e-mail, a notice, something. Google calendar even sends you txts.

    Honor the calendar, and voice breakdowns to those involved when you can’t. Thats it the whole process. It can expounded on, but it works, its solid, its scalable.

    Capture events and requests as they come at you on this capture tool, (paper, iPhone, anything) transfer to calendar that reminds you and gives you a view of what needs to happen.

    The most powerful thing this process has given me is freedom and peace of mind. Cheers!

    Robert | thelifedesignproject

    • Patrick

      @Robert: Yes these are still task lists. Actually I am a big fan of lists (i.e. checklists, etc.). They help me get things out of my head and help me structure them. But what I want you to get rid of is the association of those lists with external pressure and a feeling of being threatened (like a “I have to do list” will do). “I have to do” lists will increase procrastination, agony and making you feel like a work slave, while everything that you consciously decide to do and keep your commitment on will build your self confidence and increases your personal development.

      Considering the calendar is one approach, but I use the calendar for those tasks and events that have a definite date. Therefore my calendar isn’t that cluttered with things that I can decide to do or not to do on that day.

      But my approach on this side and on life is – whatever empowers you, makes you stronger and brings you closer to peace of mind you should continue to do. And if you find interesting components in other systems, try to integrate and adapt it.

  • I second Anastasiya. You should write an e-book for this. As this is a new concept, you can possibly try to make it more detailed. Btw, love the post. The concept is something i would love to try with my to-do list soon. =)

    • Patrick

      @Karlil: It will definitely be more detailed in an upcoming ebook. But I hope that you will start using this concept soon so you can experiment with it and get the benefits soon.

  • Power follows focus. I love that line. How did you determine that? Is there a story to tell there?

    • Patrick

      @JS: Yes there is a story to tell. And my next post is already in the making: “Focus – or how to be strong, sexy & smart in 3 seconds”. Stay tuned!

  • An interesting post, and a good suggestion of how to organize things. I’m finding the title misleading, though: you’re not talking about doing away with a to do list, you’re talking about organizing to do lists around principles that help clarify your relationship to the things you’re doing. But that’s been mentioned earlier in the comments, too.

    I also can’t agree with the proposition that it’s the to do lists that create guilt and anxiety: people CREATE to do lists to try to get rid of guilt and anxiety, and guilt and anxiety arise because of broken thoughts about the things we have to do regardless if we have a list of them or not. What’s more, anxiety can be increased if don’t have a list of tasks, because then we have to worry about more things at once, whether or not we’re forgetting some, etc. But all of that is just to take a different perspective on your introduction, and certainly doesn’t controvert the idea of connecting with why you want to do things and committing to tasks instead of being stuck on “having to” do them. Thanks for the food for thought.

    • Patrick

      @Luc Reid: You are right – the catchy title tricked you into the discussion of what a to do list is. And you are right again, that a list can’t create guilt and anxiety. People create guilt and anxiety inside themselves. There is no one else who can instill these feelings inside yourself. But people can associate feelings with things. And that is why I was hitting at the term “To Do List” so hard. It is not the list itself that is the enemy, but your internal representation of it as a threat that you “have to do” the things on the list. Ask yourself what feels more threatening: The word “task list” or “to do list”. Listen inside and you will notice, that “to do” is always accompanied by either “have” or “want”. And this will lead (mostly) to the threatening “I have to do”.

      And I state it again: I love lists. They help you to remember and give structure. But if you let your life dictate by it – the will turn from a great servant to a dangerous villain.

      But I guess you got that point already.

      Thanks for your great feedback – it allowed me to make this point more clear.

  • Patrick, I enjoyed this post tremendously and I had a few ideas I want to put on my “todo lists” to improve my situation. Thanks for sharing.

    • Patrick

      @Oscar: Great that I could inspire you. Put it into action and tell me how it worked.

  • Seconding (or thirding, lost count) the thought that this could become a great eBook. It’s quite long as is and you could probably just flesh it out with only a little more work to make it an eBook.

    Really good post. I’ve been screwing around with 43 folders and dozens of index cards. I had a fit yesterday when my entire inbox fell to the ground and scattered as I was working in the office. Has to be an easier way, and I am always looking for new ideas, so thank you.

    Regards,
    -Charley

    • Patrick

      @Charley Forness: I might really grasp the material and restructure it in an ebook. We will see. Stay tuned.
      I myself am also eager to improve my system. It came to me through frustration with other systems, while I continue to use elements that I found beneficial for me.

  • I live in the dreaded “O” list. It’s kind of hard to detach yourself from the expectation of others, after all, we were programmed this way from the beginning.

    Good thing I have emancipated my awareness and see this mistake in my life. You have elaborated here perfectly what’s needed to be done. It’s still a long way for me but I believe I can get there. πŸ™‚

    • Patrick

      @Walter: Even the longest way consists only of simple steps. Just get starting and make one step at a time. And you will find that you have gone further after a while than you had thought.

  • Interesting concept! I will test it out as part of my current task-managing series. πŸ™‚ It’ll be a few weeks till I get to it, though, since I’m still testing different software-solutions. I really like the approach, though. And I had to realize that my task-lists seldom include anything that I want to do. It’s practically all stuff that I have to do…

    • Patrick

      @Shane: That’s how I was, when I started it. All “Have to do’s” and nearly nothing I wanted. So whatever software solution you use, try to adapt the concept to it and I think you will be surprised how much more joy you will feel working those lists.

  • Hi,
    Well said,An interesting post, and a good suggestion of how to organize things.
    practice life will make you all ways on top.

    Niluka

  • I LOVE this title!

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