Why Your Task List Sucks, And How to Fix It

by Annie

in ruthless productivity, visionary-ness

The start of a to-do list on yellow legal pad paperOK. I confess right off the bat that this headline is, at least in a sense, misleading.

It’s misleading in the sense that I’m not going to be teaching you a better way to list out your to-do’s. This isn’t about checkboxes or prioritization or any of that crap.

It’s about the fundamental reason why your task list sucks. But to get to how to fix that problem, we first need to face some cold hard truths about the way we’ve been taught to approach those lists.

Why Most Task List Approaches to Productivity Are Completely Ass-Backwards

See, the problem most of us encounter is in the way we were trained to approach to-do lists in the first place. Priorities of “A, B, C’ and little check-boxes, and even the list format itself, all conspire to keep us focused myopically on the minutiae of the task  itself.

What’s wrong with that? Isn’t the whole purpose of productivity programs to get us doing more stuff?

Well. No.

True productivity — or ruthless productivity, as I’ve come to call it — has nothing to do with lists in its essence. Ruthless productivity is about producing — or creating — the business+life vision we hold in our hearts and minds.

And to get there, we need each factor in the following equation:

(Plan + Action) * Passion

Passion, in other words, is the multiplier. It’s what takes those plans and the actions we decide to take and turbo-charges them to amp up our results.

But when we start making those checkbox lists, we start focusing on those little checkboxes and on racking up the checks.

What we need to be focused on instead: our values-based visions, fueled by our passion.

Values Before Vision Before Goals Before Actions

That’s the way it needs to go, folks.

Our values inform the vision we create. The vision is transformed into reality by the creation of smart (and SMART) goals, and we achieve the goals by creating plans that consist of specific actions we then take. And then it looks like this:


Through all of this — actions, goals, and vision-creation —  we express our values.

The values have to come first.

Here’s a nice, neat, imperfect little metaphor:

If the business+life you want desperately to build for yourself is a house, then the vision is the foundation. (The vision is also the blueprint. This is why the metaphor is imperfect.) The goals are the framework and walls; the actions are the details. But underneath it all? Are your values. Your values are the soil on which you’ve laid that foundation.

Building your business+life house on inauthentic values, or ignoring your values altogether, is the equivalent of putting up a house on quicksand. The most gorgeous McMansion’s gonna shift and crumble when it’s built on top of bad soil.

Your True Foundational Values

I worked up a PDF of a worksheet I’ve been using with clients for awhile — it’s constantly being updated and tweaked, so you may have seen this in prior incarnations around the web, and the list of values it contains was created out of several other similar lists from other writers and coaches. It’s just one way to approach the very important work of setting personal values.

That worksheet is here in PDF form, and you can use it to get started deciding what your values really are.

Tomorrow’s post: all about the vision, baby!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Steffen February 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm

thanks for this article and especially for the worksheet. i did the whole thing. my 3 core values seem so obvious after i wrote them down…

maybe i’ll redo this in a few months and see what happens.
Steffen recently posted..Albatros International GmbH AquaMax 7-Zonen


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