I don’t have a to-do list, I have a will-do list

to-do listWhen I hear people say they have a to-do list, I cringe, because most items on a to-do list never get tuh-dun.

That’s because a to-do list is rarely prioritized. It’s just a random compilation of all the things that need to get done, with no rhyme or reason, no timeline, no delineation of what’s important, and what’s not.

Plus, to-do lists are often self-defeating. When something on the list doesn’t get done, as is often the case, it simply sits dormant on a piece of paper, as it sadly watches other items added to the list. A proverbial never-ending story. The to-do item that got listed on Monday is, by Friday when unattended, shouting out: “Hey! What about me? When are you going to get to me?”

I’m an advocate of a will-do list. The word “will” can be defined as “the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action”.

And since you know my tagline is decide2do, a will-do list is a powerful motivator, because it means a decision’s been made. Once the decision is made, steps in the direction of goal attainment follow much more easily.

But the will-do list alone is just a first step. To add more power to the decision, the will-do’s should be couched in terms of:

“I will do _____ on (this date).

By making this decision, I’m committed to (completing/ accomplishing/ finishing/ starting/…whatever the action is) on the date I identified.

The only thing that will take me off course is an unavoidable, higher priority circumstance or issue, or an emergency.

When I say I will-do, I’m already picturing in my mind the satisfaction and results I’ll gain from having committed to a particular action and outcome. I literally see and feel the results that my commitment will bring to me.”

Are you trapped in to-do’s? Do you feel overwhelmed by an ever burgeoning list of things to do?

Another downside to to-do lists is that they’re often very tactical, and quite often list things that might need to get done, but are not high priority.

Stephen Covey‘s time management matrix delineates a quadrant of urgent, not urgent, important and not important, and you’ll find a great outline, illustrated with comics, here.

Unfortunately, many people spend too much time in the not urgent, not important quadrants.

So a good reminder is this: It’s important to schedule your priorities, not prioritize your schedule.

Make a commitment today to commit. Identify what you WILL do, by when, for what results. Then do it. Item number 1,374 on your old to-do list will thank you for it.


  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Hey Kaarina,

    Well you haven’t seen my to-do list 😉 

    I’ve tried so many list-making methods, from GTD to Mark Forster’s Auto Focus. BUT, none worked for me so I created my own system and it’s working out fairly well. It’s not perfect, but I’m actually checking off items and it’s really an amalgamation of all the fun stuff I’ve learned over the years.

    I really like the tone of this post and the “Will-Do” list sounds great to me. I even like Sid’s outline with comics. That Mr. Covey knew a thing or two and I should re-read that book of his.

    Now with social media you can quickly start sinking into the “Time Wasters” category. It’s like falling into quicksand. A few harmless minutes on Twitter turns to an hour. You’ve been there, right? 😉 I will not waste time on Twitter. I “will-do” the things I need to be doing. There I’m ready for tomorrow.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       @CraigMcBreen:disqus , I’m sure you’ve developed a sound system to ensure that your will-do’s get done. Social media can indeed be a huge time suck, overtaking the time we committed to achieving higher priority tasks. Like peeling the layers of an onion, there’s more and more and more we can do, learn and read online. By creating our will-do list, we can allocate time, energy and focus more effectively.

      I forgot to mention one of my key tips for will-do priority management. Always plan the night before the top 3 will-do’s for the following day. Looks like you did just that:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://www.slymarketing.com Jens P. Berget

    Hi Kaarina,

    I love reading about productivity and time managent. Like Craig, I’ve been using many different systems, now I’m just adding three tasks a day, and that’s my most urgent matters and things I’ve made a commitment to do. This works great for me, and it means that I have the time to work on different projects based upon what I want to be working on that particular day :)

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       That’s great @berget:disqus . I mentioned in my reply to Craig below that identifying the top 3 will-do priorities the night before is an effective way to commit to action and accomplishment. Have fun at your networking events, and let me know how you do on remembering names:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://twitter.com/lifeforinstance Life, for instance

    Guilty as charged Kaarina, though lately I’ve been doing it differently. I’ve been assigning certain tasks to morning and others to afternoon. Certain days have different focuses and I know that, say, Wednesday is my writing day, Thursday is my paperwork day. This has been working well. Though I do use my daily calendar as part calendar, part….To Do List! 😮

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       I think what’s most important, @twitter-228904159:disqus , is to create a commitment to establishing priorities. Do the important stuff first. Most people do all the tactical, not important, not urgent stuff first because it’s “easy”. They often then find they don’t have/take the time for the really important things. Procrastination can set in , and then it’s like cramming for an exam, trying to complete that really important task on tight deadlines. I encourage you to, every evening, identify the top 3 priorities for the next day, and then DO them:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://twitter.com/adamtoporek Adam Toporek

    I like the mental word-shifting. I think the will-do is an adjunct to the to-do — it contains the crucial goal-supporting activities that tend to get lost in the mundane to-dos.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       I have nothing to add to that @twitter-223833082:disqus :)

  • Al

    Thanks Kaarina.  Never been much for list making.  This is a great idea.  Just saying and writing “will-do” makes it more believable and attainable.  I like it.  And I am going to try it.  Thanks and take CARE.  Skype soon ?


    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Skype soon indeed @55bda8bf067c222f67632d2dc41af473:disqus .

      The power of thought and word should never be under-estimated, so I agree: saying I “will do” something is much more powerful that saying I have something “to do”. And don’t even get me started on “I’ll try”. I’ll bring Yoda out for that, haha. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    The items on my list of things to do can’t decide whether to thank  or curse you for providing a way to give them a shorter lifespan.

    But me, well I just say thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       You rock @TheJackB:disqus . You’re welcome:)

  • http://twitter.com/bdorman264 Bill Dorman

    What they hey, how did we get all the way to the T’s? Did I go Rip Van Winkle on you? 

    What if I tell you I make my list and put stars by the high-priority items? But you are right, most sit on the list and by the end of the week I can scratch the completed items but most had no rhyme or reason as to when they got done. I just knew they needed to be done….. and yes, there are always some still on the list to still be done.

    But if I use your method then that puts accountability with it; that sounds kind of scary…..

    Good advice ma’am, but you are smart like that anyway………:)

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks @twitter-34985693:disqus , and no…we’re not at the T’s yet, so no Rip Van Winkle;) But I AM looking for “O” words for next week’s post, which you already gave me: “oh wait, outstanding, opportunity” will be credited to you:)

      Accountability indeed:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://soulati.com/blog Soulati

    Often, when overwhelmed, I put what’s in my head to paper and that looks like a to-do list, but it’s just a head-clearing mechanism to free up the cells for more inflow. I’ve never been good at keeping lists; I think that’s my out-of-the-box needs and free think/spirit or whatever my excuse d’jour is. 

    A will-do requires so much more planning and none of the shoot from the hip that is so frequently me. For clients, yes; for moi? Non.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       To each his/her own @soulati:disqus . I just know that writing makes it real…a plan in your head is no plan at all…and that which gets decided upon and committed to, gets done. Sounds like you have the latter under control with your hip-shooting style. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=195900696 Rebekah Bowen

    Just had time to read this and really needed  a good pep-talk about prioritization! My current to-do list is in pink Sharpie on yellow construction paper in an attempt to make it not quite so daunting….Hasn’t worked yet 😉 I will now be trashing it and making a will-do list! Thanks for your always-amazing posts!

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       @facebook-195900696:disqus , I’m thrilled that this post hit you at a good time. Banish the pink sharpie and yellow construction paper, and start your will-do’s. Each night before retiring, identify your top 3 will-do priorities for the following day. Decide. Commit. Do. And thanks for your lovely compliment: I appreciate it:) Cheers! Kaarina P.S. And thanks for obfuscate…it shall be appearing in next week’s Alphabet Post, Letter O.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t got a to-do list–I have an irritation with lists because… well, they don’t end. But just because I don’t have one doesn’t mean I don’t have stuff that needs doing. I appreciate your ideas, and will put them to use … er, regularly.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       I’m smiling @ShakirahDawud:disqus , because a will-do “list” isn’t really a list. It’s actually written priorities (writing makes it real, right?), maximum 3 – 5 per day, identified the day before. Like I said: to-do lists become a never-ending story. Will-do’s are commitments to keep. Cheers! Kaarina

      • Anonymous

        Yes, I meant that it’s my failing that I don’t like lists. I think the will-do list is definitely more enticing, though–and a very good way to be honest with ourselves about the things we won’t do.

        • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough


  • Anonymous

    Hi Kaarina….excellent post with a really good message…it is far more powerful to create a “will do” list….it minimizes the amount of wiggle room that we sometimes give ourselves as we flounder through our “to-do” lists…
    Okay….checking off item #1375 now….thank you 😉

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       I’m so jazzed for you @parkridgedds:disqus and the opening of your new office. BIG CONGRATS! I’m doing the happy dance, & sending that cyber cake and balloons. It was on my “will-do” list:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://twitter.com/rdopping Ralph Dopping

    Kaarina, Priorities, yep. That gosh darn list. Based on this post alone, #1 priority is to come back to this site often. Great post and kick in the butt. You are so right.

    I have a lot of lists and some items feel very lonley. Maybe they’re just not priorities and I should just delegate them or drop them. I love the quadrants idea.

    I will certainly give that a go.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks @twitter-229922134:disqus for dropping by, and please do make coming back to this site a priority:) I encourage you to get rid of the “lonely items”, banish the to-do’s and institute 3 – 5 will-do priorities for each day. Give it a go:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I try to keep everything away from my Will Do List and on my To Do List. Otherwise I am committed to doing things.  8)

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks for the smile @howieatskypulsemedia:disqus :)

  • http://hajrakvetches.com Hajra

    Nicely put! I am a to-do list addict and I am renaming it will-do list from today! Though I name it HAVE TO DO… obsessive that way I feel! 

    Writing it down makes all the difference for me, I feel once I have it written it down, I am more capable of organizing my activities throughout the day!

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       There is no question, @hajrak:disqus , that “writing makes it real”. It’s just that it’s important to write things down in a fashion and manner that creates priorities, rather than a never-ending list, if we really want to get the important stuff done. Will-do-have-to-do list for you, haha! Cheers! Kaarina