Your to-do list is supposed to be your friend.

It’s an external storage device to give your brain a break from having to remember the 101 things you need to take care of.

The trusty to-do list also allows you to give physical form to the mess in your head so you can better organize and prioritize everything.

The problem is that too often your “friend” turns into a terrible nagger that is stressing you out by constantly reminding you of all the things you are not doing (hello procrastination!) but really need to do.

If things go far enough your relationship with your to-do list might even go so sour that you two become enemies. And you would rather do anything else but having to look at that god awful list, let alone complete anything on it.

Sound familiar?

Let’s figure out why this happens and let me give you a few things you can do to improve the relationship with your to-do list.

Don't call it a to-do list

Why you start hating your to-do list

A huge reason why you start disliking your a to-do list is that it feels very restrictive and demanding. The very name implies this is stuff you HAVE TO DO.

And nobody likes to do things they have to do.

Deep inside, we are all rebellious toddlers who want to do anything BUT what we are told to do. Even if we are the ones who are telling ourselves what to do via our to-do list.

But what can you do about this?

Not having a to-do list is not really an option as the benefits they bring are undeniable and for many of us not having a to-do list at all is simply not an option as our whole life would unravel.

Instead, you need to work on your relationship with your to-do list.

Let’s start with the name. Instead of a to-do list, call it a want-to-do or can-do list. Because that is exactly what it is.

Everything and I mean everything in life is a choice. There is nothing you have to do. Not even pay taxes. You can always choose to not pay taxes and deal with the consequences instead.

There is always a choice.

If you are not convinced, pick something you feel like you must do. And then play devil’s advocate. Do you really have to do this? What is the alternative?

You will find that everything in life is ultimately something you choose to do because it is better than the alternative or you really want to do this to reach a desired outcome.

Do this exercise to improve how you feel about your to-do list

Take out your to-do list and go through each item. Why do you want to do this? Write it down.

Really think about each item and why it is on this list. Is this helping you reach a goal? Will this make you feel better when it is done?

For each item, remind yourself that you put this on this list because it is something you want to get done. It was a choice. And you are not obligated to stick to it. You have the freedom to decide it is no longer something you want to do and remove it from the list.

This is your life and your list. You decide what you want to spend time on. And you will live with the consequences of your choices.

Perhaps when analyzing your to-dos, I mean your can-dos, you will even find that the consequences of not doing something aren’t actually that bad. And you don’t really need to do this task.

Some items might also be on your list out of habit or a deeply rooted belief that upon inspection does not seem valid anymore (e.g. that the house has to be spotless before guests come over).

Taking it one step further and becoming grateful

You can take this all one step further and do something for your overall happiness at the same time.

By now you have probably heard that gratefulness is one of the most important positive emotion to cultivate. Gratefulness melts away stress, significantly improves your happiness and best of all, it is something you can feel on command with a little practice.

Your to-do list offers a great opportunity to feel grateful.

Go through your list and think about how each item is likely there because you have something to be grateful about:

  • Household chores? -> You got a roof over your head
  • Studying -> You get to go to school and learn
  • Work -> You have an income and are needed

Practice makes perfect

They key to all of this is to make these thoughts habitual. It is not enough to go through these exercises once. Instead you want to remind yourself of some of these insights daily.

Pick a few things that deeply resonated with you and write them on a sticky note. Place the sticky note somewhere where you can see it.

If you use a digital to-do list like Amazing Marvin for example, you might also find a way to place reminders right on top of your to-do list.

Using the affirmations feature in Amazing Marvin

Also published on Medium.

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  • Soeb Safi
    Posted November 13, 2019 4:58 AM
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    This is something i am really connecting to, because i also feel the same while i see my to-do list oh i am sorry (Can-do) list. That there so much that is left pending and the day is gone.

    But i totally agree with your advice that, it is okay not to complete all at once it is actually not possible. I will try the thought process you’ve suggested i think i will help a lot of people if they get it right and try to follow.

    Thank you for Creating Marvin and helping us via your blogs.
    Keep Writing 🙂

    • Christina Willner
      Posted November 27, 2019 11:55 PM
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      Thanks for the encouragement to keep writing! I just keep working on those 200 drafts… haha Glad the can-do list resonates with you.

  • Robbie
    Posted March 3, 2020 5:09 AM
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    Grüezi Christina!

    You make some good points here and the name “To-Do” list can definitely put some people off using one, which as you say, is not an option when it comes to good time management and productivity. (I think the word “budget” has exacty the same effect for many people when it comes to personal finance.)

    I like to view my To-Do list as a “List of Next Actions (to help me move a step closer to my goals)”, as described by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done.

    The other thing that removes the “naggy” nature of the To-Do list is to prioritize it straight away, so that you quickly get down to what is important (and urgent) and what is not, which means you can usually delete or delegate a lot of stuff quite quickly. I use the Eisenhower Box, but as I know you know, there are various ways to do this!

    I have just discovered Amazing Marvin and I am still finding my way around, but I have to say, I am very impressed so far. Keep up the great work!

    • Christina Willner
      Posted March 9, 2020 1:46 PM
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      Thank you for your comment and support! 🙂 And I like how you look at your tasks, especially within the context of your goals. Once you get the hang of Marvin you will be pleased to see that you can implement very nice Eisenhower systems and GTD workflows.

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