The Purposeful Leader

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Kill Your To-Do List. It’s killing you.

Leadership, Motivation, Productivity

I had a clipboard.

It had a college-ruled notepad attached to it, and the top sheet was my to-do list.

I would add to it constantly.

As I completed things, I would cross them off.

And at the end of every week, I would create a new, clean version of the list.

Sound familiar?

Maybe your methods aren’t identical.

But whether your list is physical, digital, or in your head, the idea is the same: working from a list.

When I worked from a list, I got a lot done. In fact, because the list was my measure, I very often prioritized things based on how long they would take to get done. Because the more that got done, the more I could cross off.

That meant that the easily-executable things were the most likely to be accomplished.

When I worked from a list, there was always a list. I would leave my office on a Friday (or wrap up my Saturday morning work time) knowing that I hadn’t “finished,” because there was no finishing.

There was always more. I was never “done.” And so, on some level, I never felt completely successful.

When I worked from a list, it was so easy to think about everything that hadn’t gotten done, and actually quite difficult to know or understand what I had done. My mind spent a lot of time on refrains of what I “wanted to get around to” or “work on when I have more time.”

These are the three downfalls, the three ways to-do lists kill our productivity:

  • They have no measure of success;
  • They make it easy for us to prioritize based on ease + volume rather than importance + value, and;
  • They create a phenomenon I like to call a thousand maybes — the list of “should” or “someday” items that take up space in our brain and cause emotional weight.

Below are the three solutions and why they work. I’m issuing a challenge. Try this. Try it for a day. Let me know how it goes + what you experience. Tell me what gets in the way and how I can help. If enough people share + request, I’ll schedule a free Q+A and/or live coaching call.

Decide ahead of time

Today is the time to decide what you’ll work on tomorrow. Ask + answer these questions:

  • What do I need to work on tomorrow to have the greatest impact on my current goals?
  • What is most important to take action on to set myself up for success next week?
  • What am I currently avoiding or procrastinating?
  • What have I already committed to, and is it as important as the work I just identified?
  • What else do I want to reserve time for — email, team, etc.?

Now you have your list of what you’ll do tomorrow. These are the things that are most important, the things you are saying yes to. At the end of tomorrow, success means achieving these things.

No for now

Everything else, every other potential task, is a “no for now.” This is a powerful distinction. It’s not that you “might” do other things. It’s that for now, for this day, they are not the highest priorities. You’ve chosen, powerfully, what you are saying yes to. And in order to say yes to those things, everything else is a no for now. If and when it becomes the most important thing, you’ll plan for it. For now, it’s not. It’s a no.

Okay, now you know exactly what is most important, how you will measure your success at the end of the day, and perhaps more importantly, what tasks you can’t use against yourself when measuring that success.

Calendar, don’t list

You are welcome, of course, to keep your running list if you want to. Just put it off to the side for later reference. But to actually get your important things done you must, must, must plan based on actual time, not based solely on tasks. Using an actual calendar, plot out your day. Give yourself a constrained but appropriate amount of time for each task, and plan based on the result you want to have achieved by the end of that time, not based on working toward something (“complete deck for next week’s town hall meeting” not “work on deck . . .”). Make sure your meetings, email time, etc. are all on your calendar as well. At this point, you’ll be able to determine if you need to adjust — either by constraining your time further or by reclassifying an item to “no for now.”

If you do this, if you kill your to-do list and fully commit to planning your day this way, thinking in these terms, and following through, I promise your days will change — you’ll feel certain you were successful, or be able to identify what got in the way; you’ll know you worked on what your future self will be glad you worked on, and build a sense of accomplishment + trust in yourself that can’t be described; and you’ll build the belief that you decide what happens in your day.


If you want to build this habit in a way that changes your life right now — schedule a free 45-minute consultation. My clients are high-achieving powerhouses from day one. They come to me because they don’t want to wait one more minute to live in that truth. Are you done waiting?


Take back your time + your accomplishment in my 5-day productivity makeover.