Monday Tip: Change your to-do list to a could-do list

The Chief Happiness Officer's monday tipsAre you also burdened by your todo-list? Feeling the pressure of overdue items screaming at you in red? Want to stop procrastinating and do something about it?

Here’s a tip from Hilda Carroll, who wrote me with a great idea that you can try this Monday:

I saw your request for tips, and this is something I’ve been doing for several months now when I noticed my ‘To Do’ list was generating a sense of frustration.

Now, I write a ‘Could Do’ list, instead of a ‘To Do’ list. When I draw up my daily lists of tasks I refuse to see it as stuff I have to get done. When I did that in the past, I’d feel a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of the day when I didn’t have everything ticked off, despite the fact that I knew when I wrote it, it was highly unlikely I’d get to everything.

It’s a tiny shift, but by viewing it as a list of things I could do today, I’m relieving the pressure to get them all done. It feels like there’s more of an element of choice around how I spend my time – I don’t have to do x today, I could leave it till tomorrow and focus more attention on y today instead.

Now, at the end of the day, I don’t mind how many ticks I do or don’t have against the items on my list, and I feel better about my day’s work because there is no shadow from what I should have done and didn’t.

I think that’s a fantastic idea. It’s a subtle shift inside your own mind that is likely to help you get started. In my experience, taking the pressure off yourself makes you more likely to get stuff done. Which is of course a sharp contrast to traditional business thinking which holds that greater pressure = greater performance.

If you’re still not getting your could-do items done, you can also read my previous post on How to procrastinate effectively.

The Chief Happiness Officer’s Monday tips are simple, easy, fun things you can do to make yourself and others happy at work and get the work-week off to a great start. Something everyone can do in five minutes, tops. When you try it, write a comment here to tell me how it went.

Previous monday tips.

10 thoughts on “Monday Tip: Change your to-do list to a could-do list”

  1. Alexander: I know that really distinguishing between items we *must* do today versus items we *should* do today is something I’ve always struggled with, but am improving in my modified version of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done System.”

    Allen contends that items to go on your calendar list for today should only be those that absolutely, positively must get done today, lest your job or family fall to pieces. Everything else is a “next action,” which you get to as you have time.

    Using this system, I feel much less burdened with my to-do, or must-do, items.

    Wondering how others handle this.

  2. I like this concept of “could do,” but – as Bryan hints at in his comment – I do think that there really IS such a thing as a “gotta do it today or something will fall apart” task.

    Another interesting point that I’ve been working with for a little while is that something on the to-do/could-do/whatever it is list (!) MUST be a task, not a project.

    If it’s a project, that’s when I see myself and my clients procrastinating like mad. It’s just too big to even contemplate doing, and you just KNOW that you can’t get it all done today. You might not even know where to start.

    So if I’m stuck on starting something, the first thing I do is ask, “Is this a project masquerading as a task on my list?” About 93% of the time it is. Then I can break it down into tasks, and it’s easy to get started!

    The other 7% of the time it’s something I just truly don’t want to do – which makes it a candidate for crossing off uncompleted, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!

  3. Great point about projects, Grace! They can seem overwhelming and cause us to procrastinate because we haven’t yet broken them down into smaller, more manageable, tasks. Another concept in David Allen’s system. Hey, maybe this guy really is onto something!

  4. Thank you.

    I think David Allen is definitely onto something. Of course, I’ve heard that integrating his full system into your life can take two years! yikes.

    Systems notwithstanding, what’s really important, I think, is to look at why something’s not getting done. It could be that it’s a project instead of a task – that’s the biggest, in my experience, as I said.

    Or there could be a good reason not to do it. Lots of times things creep onto to-do lists because of “shoulds” that aren’t necessarily related to reality.

    Or there could be an identity issue going on – if you do this thing, will your view of yourself in the world change? That can be a powerful reason for falling prey to what I call “someday syndrome” – someday I will write a book, learn to surf, take up playing the bagpipes… Because if/when I do these things, my identity will change – now I’m the person who did this (and perhaps failed, or perhaps succeeded, or …) instead of being the person who will do this someday.

    I could go on – as you can see this is a favourite topic of mine! – but I’ll stop now. :)

  5. I’ve been doing that for years, only I call it my “Possibility List.” It really does relieve a lot of pressure. I agree that breaking things down into small tasks is an essential part of the process. Even if if some of the tasks are really important, they still get listed as a “possibility.” I choose to do them because of the internal reward. I think of the relief I will feel when they’re done and I don’t have to look at them on the list any more. But I still have the freedom to choose. I’m not a slave.

  6. I agree. With too much pressure brought about by our to do list, we often forget about the real reason why we are doing it. There should be some space for us to think about it.

  7. That’s right. Adding pressure to our task will only cause some troubles. It should be something that we know we can achieve and not those task that can be affected by altering some of our tasks.

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