Do you have your to-do list with you? Simply writing an assortment of to-dos on a list doesn’t mean it is the final list.

Every individual and organization creates lists. We call them action plans. Sometimes they’re big like a strategic plan covering many years, large workforces, several countries and multiple products or programs.

Other times they’re more personal, like the around-home to-do list that gets the lawn mowed, the dog washed, the washer in the hose changed, the windows cleaned, next week’s meals planned, the … well, you get the picture.

Plans come in all shapes and sizes.

All of us in business for ourselves or leading an organization to help others, create plans.

The Humble To-Do List

Today I want to make some simple observations and comments about the most basic of all action plans – the humble to-do list.

Bottom line, this little piece of paper, digital entry or mental checklist guides how we spend our time and what we think needs to be worked on next. How we handle it will determine whether the larger goals and dreams we have created will be achieved or not.

When it comes to to-do lists, getting something from your head down on to paper is only the initial step. Most of us need to organize this way.

I realize for some the to-do list is a non-starter replaced by a few clearly defined actions to remember and possibly repeat daily. But for most of us, we need that list, somewhere in some form.

My To-Do List Options

A number of years ago, in partnership with my wife, Alice, I led Beacon Bible Camp, a wonderful camping organization for youth and families. I remember looking back and picking one month at random in which I counted 373 items on that month’s to-do lists. (Ok, so I kept many of the lists .. what’s that tell you about me?) That’s a lot of to-do, even over one month’s time.

Of course, I had many options available to me in order to deal with the items on the list. I could,

  • Starting at the top and work down.
  • Pick the easy ones first.
  • Start with a hard one and get it out of the way.
  • Pick and choose depending how I feel.
  • React to the first crisis that appears and hope the others go away.
  • Bog down, go into overwhelm and decide to goof off instead.


I could prioritize my lists based on desired outcomes, pre-determined strategy and current time realities.

Thankfully, I chose the later path.

It was this massive need to complete my all too common long to-do lists that ultimately got me started thinking on how best to manage all the things I was doing to move this super organization and its aims forward. I gave close attention to my list and in what ways it was reflective of the aims and standards of the organization playing out and being met. In short, I controlled the list. It didn’t control me. (Most of the time.)

How I went about tackling my to-do list mattered. What I did first and next, and then next made a big difference in achieving those things that we had decided needed to be accomplished and that were important to us in an ongoing way.

Your Current List is Not the Final List

The point is, your current list is probably not the final list (mine wasn’t) and we ought not to treat it that way. Being an Action Plan Achiever means I don’t let the list control me. I control it and use it for what it is … a tool to assist my goals.

Moreover, as a Christian leader and professional, I wanted my goals to reflect God’s goals. Only in that way way did I experience maximum effectiveness and a clear sense of how I fit into God’s agenda for that day, or year.

What’s your default attitude toward your list? The law, a rough guide, a big Stress with a capital S? Something else?

How would you approach your list if it were not the final list?

What one change could you make to tame your long to-do list?

How much time have you actually spent thinking about how you approach executing your to-do lists?

Long Lasting Results and Some Encouragement

This isn’t the definitive post on how to tame your list, merely an initial encouragement to consider doing so. I’ll follow up with some more pointed tips another time.

It was from this humble list pressure that the Clarity Model had its start. Developing a model, a methodology, an approach helped me to troubleshoot or evaluate whether or not I, we, the team, the board or the overall organization were doing the most productive and effective things possible at any given time.

And it was from this need to be productive every day that I learned and practiced what is now the 52 personal productivity practices in my book, 52 Solutions for Those Who Need a 25 Hour Day. You see, taming the long to-do list created all sorts of long lasting results for me. And it can for you too.

Don’t let the roar of your to-do list get the better of you. Tame it. You can take control and achieve more than you might have thought possible. If need be, take Clarity Training and learn how to evaluate and execute any action plan you may have, from corporate to personal. Or work with a coach. Take a professional planning retreat and create a fresh way forward for yourself.

Whatever you may do, I urge you to pay attention and have your lists and action plans serve you. It will save you a lot of stress.