Why your ‘to do’ list is killing you – and what you can do about it


Why your ‘to do’ list is killing you – and what you can do about it

Like most people, I have a lot of things to get done.  Personally and professionally.  Specific tasks related to supporting my clients, creating new workshops, updating my business systems, finances and the like.  Then there’s my health.  And my personal finances.  My relationships.  Being in the school of CANI (constant and never ending improvement) there’s a whole lot of reading, research, and study.  And then there’s looking after my home and family. Oh, and the dog needs feeding.  And walking.  And at the back of my mind … do I have any clean underwear?

I’m sure we’ve all been there – if not all the time, at least some of the time.

The dreaded list

To feel like I had a handle on things, I used to write a list with the words “To Do” emblazoned on the top.  It might even have “To Do Today” to really give it a sense of urgency.  You might have a piece of software to help you manage it all or an electronic organiser.  Maybe a really cool binder.  Maybe you’ve done a time management course and you know your first meal of the day should be a really big, ugly frog.

For me, it was always a long list.  Which included at least one thing I’d already done on it.  Then I could cross one thing off immediately, and experience some sense of achievement.

So what about you?  Got it all under control?  Or are you regularly looking at a To Do list longer than your arm? 

Overwhelm and Procrastination

If you shut your eyes and think of all the things to do on your list – how do you feel?  Excited?  Empowered?  Ready to ‘go get ‘em’.  Or is there a sense of dread?  Of overwhelm?  Do you spend the time you should be ‘switched off’ totally ‘switched on’ and mentally running the equivalent of a marathon in your head, going over all the things you need to do?

Are you juiced about achieving your goals … or do they seem a very long way away.  Are you procrastinating?

I hear different versions of overwhelm and procrastination every day from clients. Their brains do the old ‘1, 2, 3 … many’.  Anything over three things to do and it can feel like too much.

They either think too ‘big picture’ or they focus on the minute detail.  They focus on what they need to go through to get things done.  Either way, they don’t know where to start.  Procrastination often follows.  Like drinking from the fire hydrant, they don’t know where is best to start and they end up doing nothing.  Or trying to do everything and drowning.

A better way

So I looked for a better way.  Or, I should say, a better mindset.  Because how I think about a problem is half the problem.  If I can change my mindset, I can do the same action and have a completely different experience.  My action in a negative state will feel different to the same action in a positive state.  (My own success coach was an incredible asset in this area.)  

My emotional state has a massive impact.  And one way we can all manage our state is by asking better questions.  By changing focus.


Reasons come first.  Answers come second – Tony Robbins


One of the reasons your To Do list is killing you is that is sucking out all your joy*.  There is no ‘feeling’ in a To Do list. 

So the answer?  Get associated with your dreams.  Easy?  Well, try this.  Take one chunk or area you want to work on.  Say health.  Or finances.  Or career.  Pick one to start, and then complete the process for each remaining area.

  1. First get clear on your outcome – ask yourself what do I really want?  What result do I want? What am I committed to getting?  Write it down.
  2. Then get clear on your purpose – ask yourself why do I want this?  What will it give me?  Why is this so important?  Write it down next to the outcome that you wrote down.
  3. And next, we need an action plan.  Get all the options out of your head, onto a piece of paper.  Every possible, conceivable option.  Think big, even if they might seem a bit daft at first glance.  Get them out of your head and onto the page.  Open up and let your creative juices flow.  Brain dump it all.   Write these on a separate piece of paper that you will keep.
  4. Next, ask what is the 20% that could make 80% of the difference?  Pick the top ones from your action plan brain dump that resonate with you. Write these next to your outcome and purpose.  These will then become your weekly action planTip: if you do those selected actions and you’re not getting the results you want, or you've finished the top ones and are ready to do more – guess what, you have a whole list of new options on your original action plan brain dump that you can tap into straight away.  No need to start from scratch!

Got it?  I’ll give you an example.

  1. My outcome is to double my income to $2m by the end of August 2014 by increasing the number of sessions I offer to clients each week (there are other ways, but I've chosen to increase my availability in this example)
  2. My purpose is to expand my business even further internationally so that I can spread my message of 'unplug from the matrix', touch the lives of even more people, live my dream life - one of direction, purpose and fufilment - and take care of my family.
  3. My brain dump - a potential action plan is (this is a short one for the sake of this article!):
  • Ask all my existing clients for testimonials for my website and post them
  • Ask all my existing clients for referrals and follow them up
  • Set up a referral bonus scheme and communicate it to my clients
  • Get really clear on what type of clients I want – what’s my niche and ideal client?
  • Set up and test Facebook ads
  • Set up a power group and look at a JV with other behavioural specialists and educators
  • Get a celebrity endorsement 
  • Research and join a networking group
  • Find and connect with a mentor who specialises in my area
  • Find out who is getting the results that I want, discover their core values, primary question, mindset and model them
  1. Of those action items, I'll distil the top ones into my weekly action plan.  This week I will:
  • Find out who is getting the results that I want, find out what they do/think and model them
  • Make sure I’m clear on who my ideal client is based on recent results
  • Research and visit a networking group
  • Ask my existing clients for referrals and at least a testimonial

Now get connected to your dreams

With your clearly articulated outcome, purpose and weekly action plan, you’re then ready for the next stage.  Becoming emotionally associated with it.

This might seem a bit 'woo woo', but it works.  And it’s fun.  And who isn’t up for a bit more fun in their life? (And if you think you're no good at visualising stuff, just think about what you had for breakfast.  Got a picture of it in your mind?  Good.  You're great at visualising!) 

In a space where you can’t be interrupted (yup, that means giving your phone a rest for a few minutes), close your eyes, take a deep breath in.  Fill out your belly.  And then let it all out.  Then do that again, in for the count of four, hold for sixteen, out for eight.  Do it once more for good measure.  (If you want to have meaningful music or sounds playing in the background by all means, play it, so long as it doesn’t distract you.)

Now visualise your outcome and your purpose.  See them in your mind.  Take a good look at all the colours, all the detail.  Make the images bolder, make them brighter.  Make them richer in colour, with even more detail.  Visualise your outcome being achieved.  What will you be seeing?  How you will be feeling?  What will you be hearing?  Turn it into a movie.  You're looking through your eyes, feeling all the excitement, joy and fulfilment of achieving your goals, your dreams, and living your purpose.  Sharing it with your loved ones.  Breathe deep.

Now open your eyes.  

With those feelings anchored in your body, take your action plan and start creating.  Start doing.  As Tony Robbins says, never leave the site of a decision without taking some action.  So what can you do, right now?  This instant.

And each time you look at your action plan, reconnect with your outcome and your purpose.  It'll be right there in front of you. I guarantee it’ll feel very different from a To Do list.  And it might just save your sanity, if not your life.

* This is just one small snippet of a much larger strategy for life management.

Julie Alexander

at The Private Coach

I believe that purpose leads to profit. That creating ‘intrepreneurs’ in a business is as important as being ‘entrepreneurs’. That work should be fun. And profits will follow if you flip the old model on its head. Success is an inside job. My passion is inspiring people to go from good to extraordinary. To 'unplug from the matrix' and live on-purpose, on purpose. To remember who they want to be. behavioural specialist | educator | coach | author | speaker

Comments (2)
Phil Khor

Phil Khor, Founder at

Wow awesome article on boosting productivity, seriously refreshing and practical. Thanks for sharing Julie.

Fleur Leong

Fleur Leong, Director at

I like this, Julie. "Visualise your outcome and your purpose" - it certainly works.