Tweak Your To-Dos: A PSA On Goal Setting + Productivity

Today, I’m intoxicated with possibility. The sun shines brightly through my window, reminding me of the day ahead I have yet to conquer. The empty coffee cup signals to me my wheels are off and turning. Sounds of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby stream through my apartment’s speakers, the music making me slightly giddy with each trumpet blare.

Yesterday, I was useless.


Okay, well not *useless.* I formatted a post, locked down a few WANTcast guests, and talked to a friend I hadn’t spoken with in a while. But other than that? My manufactured to-do list had nary a slash slashed or checkbox checked.

Like most of us, I get a little rush from productivity. Knowing I’ve accomplished something – anything – I’ve set my mind to makes me the kind of giddy I used to get when at the end of the week my elementary school handed out merit awards at the all-school assembly and my name was called and I got to accept my certificate to the applause of friends and parents and teachers of all grades. I felt celebrated. I felt special.

In those seemingly 'down' moments is where genius is born. Click To Tweet

From a young age we’re praised for productivity and scolded for daydreaming. We’re motivated by stars on the cardstock and checks on the deadlines. Staring off into space and taking our time can be interpreted as disconnected, disengaged, or completely out of the loop – completely antithetical to achievement – so we’re scolded by teachers for “daydreaming.”

In reality, it’s anything but: research has shown that daydreaming can actually make us more creative. In those seemingly “down” moments is where genius is born.

Motivating others – and teaching others to motivate themselves – to achieve a goal is important, of course. But since we put so much importance on “Do-ing” in our culture, it can feel discouraging when the checkmarks don’t get checked, when the to-do list isn’t to-done, or when a day open to productivity isn’t as productive as we’d hoped it would be.
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Productivity and goal-achieving provides a nice, crave-worthy high.

So it’s only natural that when we don’t achieve our goals, however big or small, we crash.

Yesterday, I had high hopes for my allotted 24 hours. Enough sleep, killer workout, fantastic editing sesh, and an inbox of zero (hah). I’ve got the day to myself, I thought – no meetings, no calls, no obligations and no classes. HOW PRODUCTIVE I WILL BE!

And yet it didn’t work out anything like that. I felt tired and flu-like (in hindsight, due to this and this), and took a nap instead of editing a pod. I thought I had hours ahead of me, then looking at the clock I realized that it was nearing 4pm. My workout clothes were on, but the only reason I was sweating was because I was sitting on my black couch right in the sunlight. My Day Planner (yes, my physical agenda) opened to This Week, I saw the list of things I should be doing, could be doing, might need doing…and I instantly felt like crap because I did not do any of it.

As someone who derives value from being of value, days like this can feel heartbreaking if I allow myself to go there. I know in my heart that I can do it all – it’s just that sometimes, my ideal schedule looks a lot different than what life has planned.

And so I’m constantly working on riding my highs in the moment without clinging to them; enjoying my productive days and value-adds without being defined by them.

Enjoy your productive days without being defined by them. You are not your to-do list. Click To Tweet


I’m a list-maker at heart, and I’ve found I can actually make that habit work in my favor when I’m feeling defined by how much (or little I’ve done).

Here’s how to tweak your to-do list to prevent yourself from getting too wrapped up in the check-marks:

1.) WRITE THE NEEDS: I put the NEED-to-dos at the very top. Due dates, appointments, meetings, necessities (everything from “Write to your WANT peeps because that weekly email goes out tomorrow” to “Buy a birthday present because that party is tonight” to “Buy toilet paper because you’ve got zero in the house”). These are all things that absolutely must be done on the day I say they need to be done, or else a horrible downward spiral will happen either personally or professionally.

2.) WRITE THE LIKES* (*even if they seem like NEEDS): Then, I list the LIKE-to-dos after. The stuff I want to do, and intend to do, or would like to do. This can take practice and radical honesty, because most of us have trained ourselves to think that most everything falls under the “Need” category. Newsflash: it’s complicated.

3.) MAKE A PROMISE: If I don’t get the things on my list done on the very day I tell myself I will, I make a promise to not beat myself up over it. Even the Needs. Even the non-negotiables. Because sometimes, shit happens. Sometimes, life happens.

It’s not okay to leave things that actually need doing undone. Taxes. Bills. Committed deadlines. But it IS okay to feel uninspired and put off some of the other things you want or even intend to do until you can give yourself to it. It’s okay to feel uninspired, it’s okay to need a break, and it’s certainly more than okay to stare off into space and daydream for most of your day.

I am not defined by my highs or my lows – but I am, in part, defined by how useful I am to the world. And yeah, sometimes that translates into my accomplishments, my checkmarks, my to-done strikeouts and my productivity.
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But sometimes, the value of my “usefulness” means the days I don’t do much but just Be. Because sometimes, that’s what I need to do to reenergize, recharge, and flip my switch back on. I’m inherently a self-motivated person, and that’s never let me down before – and when it has, I’ve learned valuable lessons I’ve never forgotten.


When you’re feeling productive and “on fire,” ride that wave. Enjoy it. Hold onto the feeling, but not so tight as to strangle it. Remember how it feels, so when you’re doubting your abilities, you can call on that feeling you had and trust it will come back again in due time. Trust’s what allows you to ride those waves and float in still waters. It’s all about the trust, really. Trust is what allows you to ride in the waves and float in still waters. Click To Tweet

Today, I watch the birds soaring in circles outside my window, I listen to the jazz on Pandora, I guzzle down water and I bang out an essay I’m quite proud of. Later today, I’m meeting up with a fellow creative entrepreneur for drinks at a hole in the wall I’m excited to try out. I booked two interviews and I’ve got an exciting collab in the works. Today has been boss lady bliss. I have a list of things I intend to accomplish laid out neatly in my planner and on my post-its, I’ve got half of those to-dos already to-done. My head is high and tomorrow’s looking promising.

And yet I know tomorrow might not be my best. I might not get one item checked off of my to-do list, or one thing might take up the entire day, or I might get sidetracked by an unexpected wrench in the plans, or I might wake up and start working and find myself hours later staring at the screen with only a few things here and there to account for the fact that I actually spent my time doing something – anything. Or I might just wake up and feel blegh.
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But you know what?

That is perfectly okay.

Because today, I know I can do it all.

Today, I’m going to give myself something to daydream about tomorrow.

And today, I’m intoxicated with possibility.

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