In my attorney days, I had a to-do list for each active case, which I carried with me from meeting to meeting like security blankets. Truth be told, I loved my to-do lists. But with working 12-plus-hour days and feeling like I never accomplished quite enough in the day, I actually thought I was bad at time management.
Back then, even on days I rocked it and completed a huge brief, I’d go to cross the brief off one of my many to-do lists, only to see the 48 other things I didn’t get done. My pride in completing my big project deflated, even though there was no way I could have gotten the whole to-do list done in a single day in the first place. That unwarranted feeling of never quite keeping up (much less getting ahead), and therefore never quite being good enough, is what I call To-Do List Defeat.
To-do lists make us think we should be able to get it all done now, and when we don’t, we feel bad about ourselves and unmotivated to get up to do it all over again tomorrow.
The good news is there’s another approach to managing tasks and time that helps you set realistic expectations and actually meet them—something the never-ending, all-taunting to-do list fails at. This approach helps you feel accomplished about what you got done today instead of feeling bad about what you didn’t, and realistically couldn’t, do.