In order to calm our minds during these frenzied days, sometimes a to do list is helpful. But, not all to do lists are equal. Let’s be honest, most to do lists are merely braindumps. A braindump is when every open loop in your brain is poured out onto your paper or device giving you a sense of relief. And then often you find the to do list days, weeks, heck even years later and it’s never been successfully worked. At the time you brain dumped and created that to do list, you probably felt better and might have accomplished more because you felt less stressed. However, if you don’t just want to brain dump but want to accomplish what’s on the list keep reading.

Psychologists have found that the key to completing that to do list is to form conditional plans, in which people imagine the precise behaviors they will undertake in completing the intended behavior. This is generally referred to as the concept of implementation intentions.¹ Practically speaking they might form an image of when, where and how they will complete the task. I have noticed in my calendar if I put tasks into my day just like I would put an appointment, those tasks usually get completed and I don’t feel as overwhelmed on those days. Be careful, though, too many items on the to do list and you will get less favorable results.²

On my more successful to do lists, I generally do the following:

  • Start with a brain dump
  • Delegate any tasks that can be delegated
  • Delete any tasks that just don’t have to get done or just aren’t ever going to happen
  • Quickly prioritize the tasks that are left. If you work with due dates then this step is easier. If not, sometimes I’ve assigned due dates to tasks based on their level of importance and impact.
  • Working through your list of tasks, decide when in your schedule each one will be worked on and put them on your calendar.

Make sure you have what you need to complete the tasks. I realize this will probably create some more tasks but isn’t it nice when you’ve scheduled a task and everything you need to complete it is there and ready and you just rock it. Some tasks are projects and it’s more effective to bring them down into the component tasks. Chunking of projects into tasks also helps relieve the stress of looking at a task that will take days or weeks to complete. That’s just not manageable and it’s hard to feel any sense of completion. Breaking it down helps to put us in touch with the flow of productivity.

Interestingly, the concept of implementation intentions evolved from mind set theory. If you haven’t heard of mind set theory please let me recommend the work of Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Dr. Dweck and her team at Stanford University have studied extensively on the subject of mindset. Whether you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset greatly impacts your ability to learn and adapt. According to Dr. Dweck, when you have a fixed mindset people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success – without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point. The brilliant point here is that you can teach yourself or be taught how to develop a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, you can create a love of learning and a resilience to accomplish great things.³

I would love to hear from you about your to do lists. Do you love them, hate them, have some favorite apps or tools that are the bomb?? Do you think that they reduce stress? Let me know if this is helpful to you. And, don’t forget to Hygge, especially your Mind!


¹Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievements: A meta-analysis of its effects and processes. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.). Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 38, pp. 69-119). New York: Academic Press.

²Dalton, A. N., & Spiller, S. A. (2012). Too much of a good thing: The benefits of implementation intentions depend on the number of goals. Journal of Consumer Research, 39, 600-614. doi:10.1086/664500

³For more on Mindset or Carol Dweck, Ph.D. please see