Here's Why Your To-Do List Never Gets Done...

By Ryan Walcott

If you are reading this blog, it's likely that either you or someone you know really struggles to get their to-new-year-586148_1280do lists done.  

I struggled with this for years and finally gave up on them completely.  I firmly believe that the classic to-do list is ineffective and just doesn't work.  At least for me it doesn't.

Many of us set goals and resolutions for the New Year knowing in the back of our minds that we probably won't be able to fully accomplish those.

I know a few things about managing time and getting things done.  I have 8 children ages 1-19, am a Pastor of a local church, and work full time as the Head of Products and a Business Growth Coach for Rhythm Systems.  Minutes and even seconds are precious to me.  I don't want to waste any of them.  :-)

I've learned that the simple reason why your to-do list doesn't get done is that you don't carve out time in your week to do it.  You make the list and all the items just sit on the list.  Every day more items get added and they start to pile-up.  Meanwhile your life and work goes on.  You stay busy, but not achieving the most important items that you have noted on your list.

So, I want to share with you an approach I have been using for many years to get my goals accomplished while others I know remain frustrated with to-do lists.

The approach I've been using for years is the calendar approach.  It starts with me taking time each 90 days to set a list of 3-5 priorities (goals) that I need to achieve.  For each of those priorities, I outline the steps I believe it will take me to accomplish it.  This is my visualization of how I will achieve success on my top goals.  I record all of this in our Rhythm software each quarter.

Then every week on Friday afternoon I take about 30 minutes to plan my week ahead.  I look at my goals for the quarter, review the action list to achieve them, and then add blocks of time to the coming week's days on my calendar to work on those action list items to complete them.  I also add blocks of time in my calendar for the other items that I know must get done in the coming week.  So instead of only keeping these things in a list, I'm actually adding them to my calendar in blocks of time to get them done.  Typically, I use 1-2 hour blocks of time, sometimes more as needed.

So my basic habit is to add items to my calendar in blocks of time I believe it will take to accomplish them rather than keeping them in a to-do list.

Next is the daily discipline.  At the beginning of each day I take about 10 minutes to review my day and identify my top 1-3 items to complete for that day.  I make sure I've blocked time on my calendar in that day to get those items done.  If there isn't enough time in that day, then I block time on another day in the week so that I don't forget about it.

I do this for all aspects of my life: personal, family, church, and work.  I use different color codes on my calendar to help distinguish between events for those different aspects of my life.  So if I'm going to exercise 3x a week, that had better be in my calendar or it isn't going to happen.  I must be disciplined not to schedule other items in that time slot or the exercise doesn't happen at all that day.  I also have to be sure to leave a couple hours of empty space in each day for life to happen.  If you don't, you aren't being realistic.  Coming into a new week my calendar is about 75% allocated.

This practice is living Covey's Habit 3:  Put First Things First.  It's also his Big Rocks principle which you can see a video about here.  This kind of quarterly and weekly planning with daily execution helps me to put the "Big Rocks" of life into my week first before all the little pebbles take up the limited and precious time I have.

There is no perfect time manager and no perfect system.  There are always exceptions and adjustments to make.  I manage those every day.  My iCal app is open throughout the day and I make adjustments often, but when I do I am careful to not delete an item that didn't get done.  That item gets moved to later in the day or to another day in that week.

I also have to kindly say no to some requests.  This is easier for me to do because I've already put the big rocks into my week which are my top priorities.  When I explain what I am focused on and how my time is allocated to achieve that focus, most everyone understands and doesn't want to divert my focus.

I hope this helps you breakthrough your to-do list frustration as it did for me. If you have another system and discipline for getting things done I'd love to learn from you.  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Helping you grow, Ryan


Executive Summary from Patrick Thean's book Rhythm

Ryan Walcott


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images