Your To-Do List and Separating How You Feel About Yourself From How Much You Get Done

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Blog

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In the hustle of our daily lives, many of us find ourselves caught in the perpetual cycle of never-ending to-do lists. We give in to the feelings of “I didn’t get anything done” or “I’m so behind” when we don’t cross every item off our lists. Maybe your to-do list is just too long. But what if the stress and sometimes utter chaos that our to-do lists cause us could be optional? Believe it or not, your to-do list doesn’t have to control you. The way we take control over it is by detaching our self-worth from our productivity. Here is how you can separate how you feel about yourself from how much you get done and break free from your to-do list.


Where we attach our self-worth

Before delving into the specifics, let’s take a moment to grasp the dynamics at play in our society. The societal link between productivity and personal value has deep roots with religious undertones and cultural programming of what it means to be a “good” person. It’s an unfair blend of the puritan work ethic, hustle culture, and capitalism.  It’s also a potent tool that society has wielded to shape our behavior and morality. For example, the patriarchy often tells us that a good wife or a good woman cleans the house and keeps it clean. So we start equating an unorganized house as being ‘bad’. Meaning you’re bad if the house is messy, you’re a bad mom if the kids aren’t picked up after, or you’re a bad wife when the home is unorganized. And even if you’re not consciously thinking this, it is often a part of our unconscious thoughts that creates a lot of shame and guilt. 


It’s crucial to recognize that an organized or disorganized house holds no intrinsic moral value. Whether your dining table has piles of mail on it or not does not make you a good or bad person. These are merely aspects of life, not indicators of goodness or worth. Understanding this distinction is essential in breaking out from the subconscious guilt and shame we take on by societal expectations.


An endless pursuit of productivity


It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with an overwhelming expectation of responsibilities. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that completing every task will bring us a sense of accomplishment and peace. A chance to finally kick up your feet and relax, even. However, we have all experienced that as our lives become increasingly complex, the to-do list only grows longer, creating a never-ending loop of stress and anxiety. 


Having been raised in a hustle culture, a lot of us have internalized feeling good when we can cross off items from our to-do list. And if we don’t, it often feels like, “Ugh, I didn’t get enough done. I don’t get to feel good about myself unless everything on my list is done.” I’m here to tell you, you never ever have to decide how you feel about yourself based on what you got done today; your to-do list does not make a difference. Some days you’re going to get a lot done, some days you’re not going to get anything done. That doesn’t change your self worth as a human being–you’re valuable beyond what you do in a day


Breaking out of the to-do list trap


Escaping the shame and guilt from not completing every to-do list involves consciously changing how we see productivity and our own value. To start, it’s essential to figure out how much you believe you should be doing in a day. Take a moment to list what would make you feel good enough at the end of the day. 


When I did this exercise, it surprised me how unrealistic my expectations were. I was setting myself up for failure by thinking I had to do so much every day to feel good about myself. So, I encourage you to take an inventory – write down what you think you need to accomplish in your work or daily tasks to say, “I did great today.”


When you get real about what you can actually accomplish, it makes checking things off your list more manageable. How much do you think you should be getting done, both at work and at home? Take an honest look at your to-do list for your home – cooking, laundry, and tidying up. You might realize how much work it all is, and that’s okay. Your brain needs time to relax and take a breather so take that into consideration.


Neutralizing your to-do list


Next, consider what positive thoughts you get to have about yourself when you check everything off. That’s the key – not just completing the tasks but what you think about yourself because of it. It could be feeling productive, successful, or like a good employee. Here’s the secret: you get to feel that way regardless of how much you tick off your list. Your value as a person isn’t determined by your daily tasks.


Ask yourself, “What am I going to 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 your to-so list is going to be a lot, some days it’s going to be less. This is how we start detaching how much you do with how you feel about yourself. And I promise you when you do this, a to-do list just becomes a neutral piece of paper with some tasks on it and it doesn’t make you feel anything. You start to realize it’s ok if you do what you can today and get to the rest tomorrow. 


Doing less on your to-do list


The final key to mastering your to-do list might surprise you—it’s doing less and sticking to it. Instead of compiling exhaustive lists, list three achievable tasks you can get done each day. Look at your week and see, what are the big three things you have to do? What are the three things you need to do each day and can be happy with getting done?


Some tasks might take longer than anticipated, or you might find you can get other tasks wrapped up quickly. I want you to embrace the idea that when those three tasks are done, you’re done for the day, allowing time for personal pursuits. Our ingrained hustle culture often leads us to add more, making it challenging to embrace a moment of rest.


You’re going to need to build self-trust to recognize the need for breaks and to maintain a realistic to-do list. I want you to take pride in checking-off tasks without immediately piling on more. This process shifts our focus from the pressure of an endless to-do list to a more mindful and achievable approach. 


A to-do list isn’t meant to induce stress; instead, it should serve as a focused guide. If you need a place to park tasks temporarily, create a separate list for that purpose.


Putting it into practice

If your to-do list feels like an overwhelming, never-ending catalog, it’s time to reassess. And if you’re feeling stressed about not doing enough, take a moment to revisit each of these steps and put them into action. Start each week by realistically assessing what you expect from yourself every day. Write down the positive thoughts you can have about yourself when you achieve those expectations, and actively practice embracing those thoughts. Then, choose three manageable tasks for the day. Once you’ve completed them, decide what you genuinely want to do next – make sure it’s not just adding more tasks that will bring you stress.

If you find yourself struggling with these changes, join me in the Quitter Club for coaching and support. Rewiring beliefs about yourself-worth being tied to your productivity is easier said than done; it’s an ongoing process that requires consistent effort to dig deep and transform our thoughts.