The two column guilt-free (yet motivating) to-do list

The two column guilt-free (yet motivating) to-do list

Every morning I flag 10 items on my Omnifocus to-do list app for attempted completion. I always, always end up knocking off 3 items, at best. I end the day demoralized, often with a little bit of self-loathing. Maybe it’s just an instance of reality overpowering expectations.

I recently interviewed Yale psychology professor Molly Crockett on our social media usage. I asked her how she integrates neuroscience and our brain’s reward system into her to-do list process and she shared her approach.

I tend to be very overwhelmed and demoralized by what I have to do, so I created a system where I have a [two column] list of things that require a lot of mental bandwith and a list of things I can do at the end of the day when my energy is depleted. There’s an easy column and a hard one. My daily goal, which is ridiculously low, is one item from each category. On most days I will do well more than [that], but I find it useful to set the bar really low in order to not get demoralized.

If it’s before lunch time and I’ve already done one from each column, then I find that motivating and get more done. But if I set a less achievable goal of 3-4 from each column, I’d halfway through the day realize that this wouldn’t happen and then it’s like “well, I broke my diet, so I might as well have two beers and chocolate cake” type of situation.

I’ve been using this for a couple of weeks now and the results have been great. I still feel confident in my workflow, but also feel like I rack up numerous wins over the course of the day. Neuroscientists, FTW!

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