Why You Might Want to Revise Your To-Do Lists

Author: David McMillin       

Donna Kastner

Donna Kastner, founder of Retirepreneur, is no stranger to pressing pen to paper for her personal agenda. With a career that has included stops in education, sales, marketing, and consulting, Kastner has found that fulfilling her responsibilities often starts with seeing them in writing. “When I write something down, it makes it real,” Kastner said in the PCMA webinar “Conquering Resolution Slippage: The Power of Habit.” “It’s no longer something that’s in my head. It’s something I’ve committed to.”

However, Kastner pointed out that to-do lists can also be dangerous. “When there are so many things on a to-do list, we don’t know where to start,” Kastner said. “There are too many choices.”

When presented with completing a long list of tasks, the majority of us will not decide to tackle the most challenging responsibilities. Instead, we’ll cross out the easiest item simply to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment. “Your human behavior is going to gravitate toward the most simple task,” Kastner said.

You may be able to handle the easiest items — responding to emails or updating budget numbers — but you’ll likely delay the bigger tasks. In some cases, you may never actually complete them. In fact, according to data collected for The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List, 41 percent of items on to-do lists never actually achieve “done” status. Kastner believes that part of the secret to making to-do lists more effective relies on thinking about the implications of each of your goals. “Envision what things will look like when you do achieve your goal,” Kastner said. “And it’s important to face down the consequences that will happen if you fail.”

WATCH THE WEBINAR: Conquering Resolution Slippage — The Power of Habit

Timing Is Everything 

To-do lists aren’t just for your daily schedule, though. Kastner recommends writing down big-picture goals, too. For example, maybe you want to implement a new project-management system for your events team. While the new system will eventually simplify your workload, the short-term will have some big hiccups. If you’re gearing up for your annual meeting in less than three months, perhaps it’s better to delay adopting the new system.

“We’re not that mindful of when we do certain things,” Kastner said as she discussed Daniel H. Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. “You might have a big goal, but you might be tackling it at the wrong time of the day or the wrong time of the year.”

As you think about what you want to accomplish today, tomorrow, and throughout the rest of the year, be realistic, and don’t be afraid to tell yourself that your current goals and to-do items have already maxed out your time and energy. “We can be very hard on ourselves,” Kastner said. “Cut yourself a break. For event planners, we go through peaks and valleys. There are times of year where we are working very long days, so adding another goal can be very challenging.”

Looking for advice on achieving your personal objectives? Click here for tips from executive wellness coach Lance Breger on setting goals for your well-being.

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