By Andrew Leigh


Whether at home or at work, the To Do List is a great way of getting the most out of your day. But using it wrongly can send your blood pressure off the scale and give you a recurring sense of failure – even on the best of days.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? You’ve worked non-stop for 8 hours, 10 hours or more. You’ve ploughed through emails, developed projects, liaised with clients, staff, managers, attended meetings, delivered presentations. By any measure it should have been a fantastic day.

But then you look again at your To Do List and feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration. Just look at all the stuff you didn’t do! And how can so much activity result in so few items ticked off the list?

The standard explanation is that you are getting sidetracked by those easy but unimportant jobs that can be so ‘helpful’ in avoiding the stuff that really counts. This is something that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s definitely worth doing an audit on the value of the jobs you choose to do or feel forced to do.

Fatal assumption

That’s fine – except that we almost always make one fatal assumption. In our desperate search for increased effectiveness, we assume that all we are looking for is work that we are overvaluing . As a result we often undervalue work that is actually of very real value. Typically, these are activities that don’t have a clear outcome or endpoint – or which are difficult to schedule.


Let’s be very clear about this. Undervaluing vital parts of your daily work sets you up for the To Do List Nightmare.

Here’s an example of how this might happen:

  1. Undervalue (for instance) unscheduled interactions
  2. Make no allowances for them on your To Do List
  3. Begin to resent and be stressed by this part of your work
  4. As your day progresses, feel the ‘weight’ of your unachieved To Do items
  5. Stay late to complete as much as possible
  6. Begin each day expecting to fail – end it knowing you have.

Recognise the pattern? Here’s my 4-step route to sorting it out.

1. Reassess your Activities

This is absolutely vital. Yes, you do need to recognise the work you shouldn’t be doing, but you also must fully value the work that deserves it.

Question to ask: What would happen if I gave this activity less attention?

If the answer is nothing, then give it less attention. But answering this question honestly will often uncover the real benefits to yourself, your colleagues and your organisation.

2. Break the Unrealistic Expectations habit

Your To Do List is not a wish list. It is not a this-is-what-I’d-do-if-the-day-were-48-hours-long list either. Make allowances for all your daily activities and be sensible about how much it’s possible to do.

3. Make an Achieved List

If you want to understand how much you are really doing each day, try compiling an Achieved List for a week. Make sure that everything goes on it – especially the small jobs. As well as helping pinpoint work you should do less of it will allow you to appreciate all the great stuff you’ve done that didn’t fit easily on your To Do List. Prepare to be amazed!

4. Focus on your Achievements

At the end of each day, focus on your achievements. Now, instead of beating yourself up over what you didn’t do, give yourself some long overdue credit for what you did do.

Use this method and see the benefits. Pressure of work may tempt you to go back to your old To Do List nightmare. But the odds are that you’ll actually achieve more each day by putting less on your list.

Most importantly you will be programming success into day rather than failure. And that will feel very good indeed.

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Andrew Leigh helps people achieve better work and business performance, whole-life wellbeing, achievement and change, and fulfilling new life directions.

To find out more about how life coaching can transform your life visit

Copyright 2007 – Andrew Leigh. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this article as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way and give author name credit.