Featured Motivation & Mindset

Why To-Do Lists Do Not Increase Your Productivity And What You Should Try Instead

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Lists are often touted as a great organizational tool, but the downside is that they focus only on the urgent, day-to-day tasks, rather than ensuring that you’re progressing towards your goals. To-do lists give us something to do, and most of us get some satisfaction from checking things off each day; however, we can quickly complete a massive to-do list only to be left feeling unproductive and unfulfilled.

As an example, imagine sales managers overseeing the day-to-day activities of their sales staff. They could measure how many calls that person makes, but it would be irrelevant. The number of calls would only help determine efficiency (such as the number of sales compared with calls) or approach (for example, if the person is aggressive or unprofessional). However, it doesn’t show an outcome. A salesperson could make 100 calls per day but still accomplish essentially nothing.

I believe we should shift our approach to focus on results over activities. Instead of a list that includes writing ten proposals, we should plan land two new clients instead. By focusing on outcomes rather than activities, we’re much more likely to be successful.

“Think of your brain like a heat-seeking missile. Whatever the outcome maybe, your brain can figure out how to get there and your behavior will adjust accordingly.” ~Tony Robbins.

Consequently, outcome planning allows us to focus on achievement instead of activity. Much like making countless phone calls doesn’t necessarily lead to sales, focusing on results makes it possible to hone in on what is efficient and effective, instead of just checking off a box.

In today’s day and age, many activities are distracting us. Endless opportunities are vying for our attention, and without deliberately focusing on achieving our goals, our time is likely to be driven by others and the demands they place on us.

Here are three questions to help you define a vision more clearly. The sequence is critical, because if you don’t know what you want, why you want it, and then create a plan for how to get to it, in that order, your actions will not be sustainable through life’s challenges, and you’ll have little possibility of experiencing what it is you truly desire.

1) What do I want to achieve? What’s the particular outcome I desire? What’s the result? Try to be as specific as possible. For example, rather than a goal of, “Make more money” consider defining it further to state, “I want to bring in $1000 more each month.”

2) What is my purpose? Why is my goal not only desirable, but non-negotiable? Having an emotionally-charged answer to this question will give you the energy to move forward when the novelty has worn off.

What type of words seems to fill you with motivation and ambition? What words propel you towards achieving your goal? For example, suppose you plan to bring in more money so you can travel more. Trigger words attached to this goal could be freedom, flexibility, luxury, relaxation, adventure, and excitement. These words give you the motivation to move forward and provide the driving force behind your everyday actions.

3) What’s my action plan? Rather than just a couple things, think about a variety of steps you could implement each day. Consider everything so you can then determine which ones will make the biggest impact.

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