Time & Productivity

Don’t Be a Victim of Your To-Do List

If the classic to-do list works for your ADHD brain, that’s terrific. I make them myself, and I find them helpful. But if it doesn’t work, you can still figure out how to be productive with these to-do list alternatives.

Check list document on laptop vector illustration, flat cartoon computer with paper check list and to do list with checkboxes, concept of survey, online quiz, completed things or done test, feedback
Check list document on laptop vector illustration, flat cartoon computer with paper check list and to do list with checkboxes, concept of survey, online quiz, completed things or done test, feedback

When it comes to happiness, habits, and human nature, there is just one universal rule: Nothing works for everyone. We’ve all heard the expert advice: Do it first thing in the morning! Do it for 30 days! Start small! Give yourself a cheat day!

Those approaches work well for some people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), some of the time. They don’t work all the time for everyone. The most important thing is to know yourself, and what works for you.

One place where I’ve seen this play out? To-do lists. Over and over, I see the advice: “Write down your to-do list, set your priorities, work your way through the items, this is the way to get things done.” I’ve been talking to people about this advice, and I’ve discovered that to-do lists don’t work for many people.

[How Seriously Do You Procrastinate? Take This Quiz To Find Out]

And they often think, “Something’s wrong with me, I have no willpower, I can’t stick to a list, why can’t I use this simple tool?” To which I say: “There’s nothing wrong with you. Instead, let’s see if there is a way to tweak the tool to make it more effective for you.”

Since I’ve started looking for new approaches to the to-do list, I’ve found several versions that work.

How to Be Productive With A “Could Do” List

To-do lists don’t work for rebels. In my book The Four Tendencies (#CommissionsEarned), I talk about rebels. Rebels work toward their own goals, in their own way, and while they refuse to do what they’re “supposed” to do, they can accomplish their own aims.

A rebel I met told me that the minute she made a to-do list, she wanted to resist it (the very term “to-do list” is not rebel-friendly). So she changed the vocabulary. She explained, “To-do lists almost never get done by me, because as soon as I have to do something, it’s the last thing I want to do. A ‘could-do’ list reminds me that I can choose to complete the task.”

A variation on this is the “might-could” list: I’d never heard this term until an audience member used it during a book tour. I love the concept. It’s not a to-do list; it’s a might-could list.

[Read This Next: Popular Productivity Advice That Torpedoes the ADHD Brain]

How to Be Productive With The “Ta-Da” List

In one of my podcasts, Elizabeth Craft and I suggested making a ta-da list. Make a list of everything you’ve already accomplished. You’ll be surprised and energized to see how much you’ve done. Giving yourself credit for your efforts makes it easier to keep going.

Then There’s the “To-Day” List

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the sight of all the errands, tasks, and aims that re-quire our attention. If you can’t bear to contemplate the complete list, try making a “to-day” list. Just list the things that you’d like to get done today. We’re told that “everybody” should use to-do lists, and that “everybody” finds them useful. But, in the end, they don’t work for everyone.

Gretchin Rubin is the author of the best-selling book, The Four Tendencies (#CommissionsEarned). She writes and speaks about habits and happiness.

How to Be Productive: Next Steps


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