Stop Letting Your To-Do List Run your Life
Ep. 293
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In this episode, I dive deep into the insanity of to-do lists and the unrealistic expectations we attach to them. Be it the societal conditioning that ties productivity to self-worth, it’s crucial to change our perspective. Your to-do list isn’t a dictator; it’s just words on paper. Learn the power of realistic expectations, the art of celebrating small victories, and the importance of building self-trust. Listen to discover how detaching your worth from productivity can lead to a more fulfilling and balanced life.

Show Transcript
Hey, welcome to Lessons from AC Quitter where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you've spent getting to where you are. If ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams.
Hello my friends and welcome to another episode. I am so excited to have you here. I'm gonna go on a little rant, ranty rant today 'cause this is a topic that I have to coach on every single week in my membership program. It is something that comes up, I would say, daily with people and it's something that we have to start rewiring our brain around. And that is the stress, the utter chaos that your to-do list causes you. I get some version of I didn't get anything done.
I'm so behind, I never get anything done, I'm never productive. My to-do list is just too long. It feels like it never ends, yada yada yada. Right on and on and on. And that is true because it is a non-ending thing. And we're gonna talk today about how you get control over your own to-do list, okay? And kind of what goes into doing that. But really the importance of how you have to change how you think about these fricking lists. And that might be an actual list that you write down. It just might be, you know, the mental list of everything you have to do today. You may not be someone that like sits down and write it down, but you have this laundry list of things that you think you need to get done and you're frustrated every single day because you don't get 'em done all, or there's always more to do or it just never slows down, right?
And so it's really important to first understand that A to-do list cannot make you feel anything. It is words on a page. It is gibberish, right? It does not like reach into you and cause stress. How you think about your to-do list is what causes you stress, which is great news because you control how you think about your to-do list, which is what we're gonna talk about today. But it's really important for a lot of us we think like, well no, there's just so many things I have to do. That's what's causing me stress. And part of what I wanna talk to you about is that like that unfortunately will never end. There's always so much to do. And so all we have control over is how we approach that, how we think about that. And it's so important I think for a lot of us, we think if I just become more productive, if I just become better at managing my time, if I just learn these productivity hacks, if I wake up earlier, if I don't mess around at night, if I don't watch Netflix, if I stop scrolling, then I'll have all this time and I'll just become a different human being and I will focus and I will get everything done and I'll feel wonderful and I will kick up my legs and I'll relax.
And I don't have to tell you that day will never come a 'cause. You're not gonna become a different human. Your brain works the way your brain works. You can obviously learn some hacks and things like that, but you're not all of a sudden gonna become a super productive focused human if you haven't been that person up until now. And that's okay because that's not the way your brain is supposed to work. And two, it'll never end. It'll never end. I know that's like the most terrible news, but it's also the most liberating. And I'm gonna explain why. But before we even talk about that, I want you to understand what is happening here in our society. One of the ways in which like a brilliant way in which society learned very early on that you can control people is through morality, which is like the basis of all religion, right?
Is like how do you control the masses through what is good and what is bad, what you're supposed to do, what you're not supposed to do.
And a lot of that stuff has, you know, come about in different ways. There's like the seventh deadly sins. There's certain principles in every religion that you're supposed to follow. And so we have been given like conscripted these very vague things by the way, it's not very clear delineations of what you have to do. But these very vague rules that you have to live by in order to be a good person. Okay? So don't be slothful. What does that mean? What counts as slothful don't be greedy? Things like that, right? And it's purposefully vague because it keeps you on your toes, it keeps you guessing, it keeps you constantly thinking that you are not doing it right, you're not doing it good enough.
And what had started in certain areas of our life where maybe we do wanna have certain ethics, and I would argue that morality and ethics, it, it's just a slippery slope. Who decides what's moral? Every atrocious thing that's happened in this world has been done by people that think they're doing the moral right thing. So that's a discussion for another day.
But we obviously want to have some rules about how we wanna engage in our life and how we want to be active members of our society. And so it starts out with these rules, but what has happened when you get those religious undertones, that kind of cultural programming that we've gotten where our society was built on these puritan work ethic and the basis of these like major religions. And then you combine that with hustle culture as well and capitalism is that what a lot of us have ended up doing is attaching moral equivalent to things that are just morally neutral.
Things that are not good or bad. They do not make you a good person. They do not make you a better person if you do stuff. But that is not what we've been taught, right? And so a lot of us in different ways, like you know, let's say the patriarchy tells us that like a good wife, a good woman cleans the house and the house is clean. And so we start equating an unorganized house as being bad. Meaning we're bad, I'm a bad mom, I'm a bad wife. And even if we're not consciously thinking this, it becomes a part of our unconscious thoughts and it creates a lot of shame and guilt.
Whereas like disorganization is morally neutral. Like whether your table has nothing on it or it has papers on, it does not make a person good or bad. It just is the way that your brain works, right?
I really think about this now where there's this like kind of increase in knowledge about A DHD and we think about how certain people's brains are just wired certain ways. They're not doing it because they're a bad person or they're not doing it because they don't respect you and that's why they're late. Like they truly have time blindness like good to know. Like they see time in a different way. And I think about this where like for some people, organization actually helps them calm their anxiety. So like they do it in order to help themselves. They constantly clean, they constantly organize, things have to be a certain way or they get anxious. That doesn't just make them a better person, it just means that's how they operate. And for someone else who can't be bothered, who just, it doesn't, I'm that person. It doesn't bother me to have a bunch of stuff on a desk.
I don't actually care. It doesn't gimme stress. It is actually easier for me to find. I have what I guess a lot of people with a DH adhd, if things are in drawers, I forget about them. Like immediately I don't have object permanence. So a lot of times when it's things that I know I'm gonna need, I just keep it out, right? That does not make me a bad person. Now obviously I think if we talked about this with anybody consciously, you'd also agree, of course that doesn't make you a bad person, but that's not the message we've been given from society, right? So a lot of us just internalize this of like, ugh, why can't I get my stuff together? Why can't I just be organized? Why can't I just have everything clean? Why can't I just put it back where it needs to go?
I dunno, because maybe your brain doesn't work that way. Why does it matter, right? That's the question you should be asking yourself. And so one example is organization, but another one is productivity. Obviously we all know we've been raised in a hustle culture and it's in society's best interest to get you to do more. The more you do, the more you benefit society, right? We need workers to not question how much we ask them to work. We need them to give us their blood, sweat and tears and we need them to do it willingly. And so what a beautiful way of convincing them that like it just makes you a better person if you do more, it just makes you better. This is also a lot of religious undertones, right? You have, what are those like phrases, idle hands or the devil's playground, right? There's a lot of things within religion that's where like hard work is equated to godliness.
And so there's this undertone of if you're a hard worker and you do a lot and you constantly hustle, then that somehow makes you better. A lot of us have internalized that, which is why so many of us don't quote unquote feel good when we don't do a lot, right? Where it's like, ugh, I didn't get enough done so I don't get to feel good about myself unless I do a lot. The only time I get to feel good is when I check those things off that to-do list when they're all checked off, then I get to feel like I am a useful human being. Like I am a productive person in society, right? It's absurd. And yet all of us do it. Every person, I literally coach people every single day on the fact that I hate myself. We don't say this but like ugh, I don't know why I can't just get my together.
I don't know why I can't just do more because that's what I need to do in order to feel good about myself. And I'm here to tell you, you never ever have to rest how you feel about yourself based on what you got done today, that does not make a difference. Some days you're gonna get a lot done, some days you're not gonna get anything done That doesn't change your self worth as a human being, right? When we started equating, like the more I did, I, the better a person I become, then yes we end up on this perpetual hamster wheel that we can never get off because I have to constantly prove my worth. I have to constantly prove that I'm a good person and I'm doing a lot. And so for a lot of us it's extremely uncomfortable to rest. It's extremely uncomfortable to do nothing because then I'm just a waste of space.
Then I'm just, you know, insert whatever negative thing you have about yourself. And for so many of us who were also raised in families that really, you know, hammered in this work ethic of like working hard and always working and I talked about this like how my parents and my family is filled with a lot of people that never sit down and there's this patch of honor of like I hit the ground running from when I wake up and I'm always cooking and cleaning and working and you know, and it's almost this weird way of bragging, you know, it's the whole badge of honor of being busy. It's oh my God, I'm so exhausted. This is the first time I sat down. Okay, why is that a good thing right now realize if there was a negative connotation with working hard, none of us would be bragging.
None of us would be like, oh my god, I'm so busy. If the connotation was you don't know how to manage your time well or you're just, you know, I don't know, not smart because you're working too much. Like none of us would be like using this as a badge of honor, but it's not. The connotation is you are a better person because you did a lot. Okay? And so the reason I say all this is because that is the reason why these to-do lists hold so much sway over us because we constantly have this ticker of oh my god, these are all the things I need to do in order to show that I'm a good person. All the things I need to do in my house, all the things I need to do for my kids, all the things I need to do for work, right?
And then we end up having these lists that are supposed to be just helpful reminders of okay, this is what I need to do at work. But what happens is you mix these unrealistic expectations of hustle culture with an actual human brain. Typically the first step in kind of getting past this is really understanding how much you think you should be doing in a day and how much you think you should be getting through. I want you to like make a list of when you get to feel good enough, write down what would have to happen in one single day for me at the end of the day to be like ha, I got so much done and I get to feel good about myself. 'cause you will be surprised at how batshit crazy it's I did this exercise, I kept thinking I don't get enough done, I never do enough in my business, I'm never doing this.
And I wrote down a list and I was like this is insane. I have to do this every day in order to feel good about myself. It's never gonna happen. So I'm setting myself up to fail. So I want you to do like an inventory, write out a list. What would you have to get done in your to-do list, like get it outta your head and think about at work, what are all the things I have to do that I wanna be done by the end of the day so that I can say like, huh, tick that off. I feel, feel great. Right? And what do you get to think about yourself? This is really important. What do I get to think about myself if I check everything off? I want you to write that sentence down. That is what you're after. It's not the checking off of the to-do list.
I get to think, oh I'm a really productive person or I'm really good at my chop. I am killing it. I did a lot today. I'm a great mother, I'm a great wife. Whatever you get to think about yourself, that is what the feeling you are after is I want to think that thought. And in order to do that I gotta check all these things off so that I can be like, see I am a really good employee, I really am a good wife, I am this, that and the other. And here is the cheat code. You get to think that thought regardless of what you check off, what you check off during the day does not change how you are as a mother or employee or sister or husband or whatever. And I know I'm immediately gonna get like, well it does kind of affect how you are as an employee.
Sure, maybe a little bit but not really because here's the thing, you have an unrealistic expectation of what you think you should get done for all of us. The human brain does not focus for eight hours a day. It just doesn't. I don't care how your brain is wired, it doesn't do that. Our work life was completely made up five days a week, eight hours a day is just a completely made up number, right? Like maybe if we had four days a week, four hours a day, all of us would be killing it. And imagine how good you would feel because you would be thinking like, yeah I can do this. I can focus for this long, I have the rest of the day to relax. That doesn't make you a better person, it just means that the rules that we were playing by were different.
So like our rules are you have to be here for eight hours and I can know that my brain is likely gonna do half of what I think it's gonna do. Like what I think I should get done in a day, usually cut it in half and that's what I actually could probably get done. When you start getting realistic, it becomes easier to then check off what you need to to check off. So the first stage is really understanding like how much do I think I should be getting done? Do it for your house too. What's also insane is like what do I think I should be doing? Like cooking dinner, doing all the laundry, making sure all the toys are picked up, the floors have to be mopped, you know there needs to be no mess anywhere. You know whatever the bathrooms need to be cleaned once a week.
I need to do X, y, z. You start realizing like, well yeah that to-do list is terrible and I don't wanna do this every day and I need some time to rest. Your brain needs time to veg out. Your brain needs time to self-soothe. So when you get home from work, it's not a surprise that you're exhausted and you don't wanna do anything that is not a character flaw. That is literally how your brain works. This is like the key thing that I want people to understand with these to-do lists is that I want you to tell me what would happen. Let's say you go through this and you start becoming realistic or you get you know super organized and you plow through that to-do list and you check it all off. What happens then? Like you get to feel good that night. And then what?
You have more things to do on your to-do list the next day, right? This is the insanity of it. There's that quote, the prize for winning the pie eating contest is more pie, right? It's like the prize for doing the most to-dos is more to-dos. Like you have a job that's going to constantly give you tasks, you'll finish those tasks and you will be given more tasks. That is the nature of it. That's why you have a job. Otherwise they wouldn't need you. Let's not let that take over our lives and be like we have to get through everything every night. What if we just realized like I can get through whatever I can get through in a day and I can feel good about myself knowing I probably procrastinated a little bit, I goofed off, I didn't focus but then I did a lot of things I was supposed to do and then I'll get it done the next day knowing it will never end.
I want you to think about like for a lot of us, when we do get things under control, when we do finish the to-do list, what do you do? You just come up with something else that you need to do because our society is obsessed with you constantly doing something else. So if you are got your home life on lockdown, you and your spouse are killing it. Everything's organized, dishes are getting done, laundry's done every week, you've outsourced it, whatever great you're doing your to-do list at work and you have time at night. Guess what you're gonna start doing? Like huh, I have all these hours. I should probably do something. I can't just watch tv. Maybe we should start that project. Maybe we should remodel here. Maybe I should start a side hustle. Maybe I should start that hobby. Maybe we should join a rec league and maybe I should work out more because your brain has been trained to believe that it needs to do more.
So it's so funny because people like want to get a hold of these to-do lists, get a hang of it. And I'm like you're just gonna add more things to do even if you check it all off, great, now you have something else. There is that meme and I know I'm gonna butcher it, but there's this meme about adulthood is just saying, well as soon as everything calms down like over and over again 'cause it's not gonna calm down, it's just not. This is the nature of the beast. You have a job that's gonna give you tasks. You have home where the tasks are always going to come back, laundry's gonna have to get done again next week. Dishes are gonna be there every day. And so I can get upset about that. I can feel not good about myself. I can say I'm doing something wrong or I can just accept there will always be things to do.
My to-do list will never end. I do not need to check off everything in order to feel good about myself. I'm doing great. I'm killing it. I'm getting things done. Look at me taking care of myself. Look, my kids are fed, I'm fed, I got a roof over my head, I got a job, I'm killing it. Turns out I'm doing things really well. I don't need to be the most productive human being all day every day in order to feel good. And I want you guys to think about the reason why so many of us procrastinate. And this is why I think it's so important. If you wanna actually change how you approach your life and you want rest and you want more joy and you want time and space to think and not just have more to dos, you have to deal with this issue.
Otherwise you'll never let yourself rest because you'll be outrunning your shame. You'll be outrunning this idea of, but I'm not good enough if I can't take two nights off and just do nothing. But I want you to think about going back to procrastination. I'm gonna give you an analogy or an example and you tell me how you would react. Let's say you get a trainer and you go to workout with your trainer and as you're working out your trainer's like, okay, just one more exercise and then you're done today and you're like, okay, I can do one more exercise. So you do the exercise, he's like, okay and then one more, one more exercise and then we're done. So you, he is like, okay, last one promise. And then you do that and he is like, okay, I tricked you one more. We're gonna just really quickly do these sit ups.
If that kept going on, what do you think you would do? How do you think you would feel about going back to training if you had no idea when it actually ended and there was no end in sight, he just kept adding things. How do you think you would react to working out with that person? There would be zero trust and you likely would either stop working with them or you would feel a lot of resistance to going because you don't know what to expect, you don't get a break from it. He keeps wanting to go, keeps wanting to push. You have no idea like when the end is gonna be right. This is how people are with their to-dos and with their tasks. And this is why like it's so obvious why so many of us procrastinate is like you tell your brain like okay, I just wanna get through the day or I wanna get through like these things and you get through 'em and then you immediately just add more things and you're like, oh but I should start that project or I should reach out to this person.
Or I was supposed to do X, Y and Z. Or maybe I should start working out more out more. And your brain is onto at this point, right? For a lot of us, the reason a lot of us don't start projects is because we know like it's, it's just gonna be a whole nother list of things I have to do and there's never really like clean rest where like I have time where I'm gonna like without guilt do nothing or let myself just be or feel proud of myself for what I got done and not add more to it and let myself just be in this space of like nothingness, right? Like no schedule for a lot of us we've lost that self-trust. So your brain is like, you know what? I don't even wanna do this other task 'cause I know as soon as I do this other task, there's just another task.
As soon as we finish this task, she's gonna make me do another task. So why don't we just scroll Instagram for a little bit, let's just get some dopamine 'cause we're just doing too much. And so for so many of you, the secret to actually learning how to do your to-do is honestly doing less is putting less on it and keeping your word. Like if I have to do these three things, one of the little hacks that people do have is like only put three things that you have to get done that day. I mean I know obviously there's like maybe administrative stuff, but you look at your week like what are the big three things you have to do? What are the three things each day and can you be happy after you get those three things done? And I've realized this like with my own business, I do this all the time.
This is what I was talking about when I originally made that list and I was like, oh my god, I have to do everything. I started making a list of three things that I wanted to get done and I would see like sometimes that list would take longer and so I would think it should take me three hours and it took me six hours, maybe it took the whole day and then sometimes I thought it was gonna take me the whole day and it took me an hour and I was done. And I was fascinating to watch my brain because what I should be doing is like, hey, these are the things I need to get done. When those are done, I'm done for the day, I'm done with my business. I can go read, I can go for a walk, I can go do other things.
But that's not what my brain does because we're in this hustle culture. So mine is like, well we've so much time and we should work 'cause that's what people should do apparently. So let's just add more. Okay, well awesome, we got this done, let's just do something else. And I started noticing this like, oh my god, my inclination is to always just add more. Of course my brain doesn't wanna then get work done. And so a lot of building this self-trust is realizing like am I building in any rest in my day? Am I having a realistic to-do list When I do check things off, am I proud of myself? Do I give myself time to not add more? Like do I take that extra time? Because I guarantee you, if you took that extra time your brain would understand, like you wouldn't need to procrastinate as much 'cause it's like, hey, if I can knock out two hours and then I'll, I'm done for the day.
Now I understand a lot of you guys have jobs you're gonna be at like your nine to five. But for a lot of us, if it was like, you know what, I just need to get these three things done and then the rest I don't really need to do much. It changes how you approach your todo. So if your to-do list is just an ever running list that you're putting every single thing on and you just keep adding to it, yes it's gonna create a lot of stress and you're gonna hate it, but that's not what a do list is meant to do. If you need a place where you need to park things, that's fine. Create a list. But no, that's not what you're gonna get to each week. I want you each week to think about realistically what can I get done realistically?
What am I gonna tackle each day and can I feel proud of myself? Can I be grateful for what I did regardless of how much it is? Some days it's gonna be a lot, some days it's gonna be little and I have to start detaching how much I do with how I feel about myself. And I promise you when you do that A to-do list just becomes a neutral piece of paper with some tasks on it and it doesn't make you feel anything. And even when you have other stuff done, you just realize I'm gonna get to it tomorrow. I'd have more things anyways, as soon as this is done, I'm gonna add something else. I promise you your to-do list can become neutral. And so if you find yourself getting stressed over not doing enough, I want you to go back and listen to this and I want you to implement the steps.
I want you to think about realistically what you expect yourself to get done every day. I want you to write down what you get to think about yourself if you do that. And I want you to practice that thought. And then I want you to pick three things that you're gonna do each day. And when you're done with those, I want you to decide what you get to do after that. And if it's just more stuff that's gonna be a problem. You're gonna have to deal with that. And I want you to come into the Quitter Club and get coaching on this. I want you to get help on rewiring these beliefs about what makes you a good person and what makes your productivity determine your self worth. I want us like this isn't just intellectually understanding, this is work that like you actually have to keep digging into and changing those thoughts.
So if you found this helpful, you can go to and join the wait list so that you can join when doors open. All right, my friends, do not let these to-do lists. Run your life, you run the to-do list. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week and I'll see you next week for another episode. Hey, if you are looking for more in-depth help with your career, whether that's dealing with all of the stress, worry, and anxiety that's leading to burnout in your current career or figuring out what your dream career is and actually going after it, I want you to join me in the Quitter Club. It is where we quit what is no longer working like perfectionism, people pleasing imposter syndrome, and we start working on what does and we start taking action towards the career and the life that you actually want. We will take the concepts that we talk about on the podcast and apply them to your life and you will get the coaching tools and support that you need to actually make some real change. So go to lessons from a club and get on the wait list. Doors are closed right now, but they will be open soon.