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Are You Making This Mistake with Your To-Do List?

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I am a doer. I love doing. I love getting things done.

Every morning, I write out all the tasks I envision accomplishing throughout the day—everything from working out to meal prepping to completing work projects. I used to make the mistake of writing everything—EVERYTHING—I had on my plate on my to-do list for the day, but I quickly discovered how frustrating that was when I could only cross off two or three things (out of…like…twenty).

But I discovered recently that I am still making a mistake with my to-do lists…one that is affecting both my productivity and my happiness: I get so emotionally and psychologically attached to the idea of completing a task—and performing the beloved action of crossing it off my agenda—that sometimes I try to push through tasks when they need more time and perhaps emotional space. The quality of work (when it’s a work task) might not be affected by the drive to finish something and send it off, but it certainly can affect the way I feel about the task and my overall satisfaction at work.

The funny thing is, it’s often not an issue of deadlines. I simply get so set on finishing something that day that I’ll focus more on the drive to completion than on the process. I think there is something to say about redefining productivity and how we’re programmed to view “progress” at work: perhaps if we thought of productivity less as something defined by completion and more defined by exploration, growth, and nuance then we would be better able to “sit” in the process without an eye on the end goal—in my case, the send button. After all, nuance (which I feel is a crucial quality for “good” work, in most cases) takes time, space, and, I think, ease; it cannot be rushed.

Imagine what would happen if our minds were wholly focused on the complexities of a task rather than on the pressures of completion. For me, this would involve learning to feel okay with not getting the satisfaction of drawing a line through a task on my to-do list that I envisioned putting to bed that day. Or, perhaps it would involve being more process-oriented when creating my to-do list, identifying certain elements of a task that should get done that day rather than naming the entire project OR—even better—crafting goals for the day that defined productivity and progress in terms of growth instead of degrees of completion. For instance, I might name one of my “tasks” as “enlarging my perspective on X subject” or “ensuring a dynamic perspective is reflected in X chapters” rather than “finishing editing chapters X–Z.” Doing this seems like it might also lead to more opportunities for personal reflection that would contribute to increased job satisfaction.

What are your thoughts: Do you get emotionally attached to items on your to-do list? What do you think about redefining productivity in terms of growth instead of task completion? What might this look like for you?