How to Keep To-Do Lists From Killing Your Productivity

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My parents believed I was running some type of a scam in college.  A couple times each semester, I would call them and ask for extra money.  They would ask why, and I’d answer, “I need some new folders to help organize my class work.”

Why so many folders? Looking back, I realize that during extremely busy times of the year or when I got particularly worn down, I would react by focusing on “getting organized.”

After a few semesters, it became a family joke.  Anytime I asked for extra money, my parents would smirk and say, “Oh, you need more ‘folder money?’”

The crazy thing is that I did use most of that money to buy folders or other things to help get myself organized.

Sometimes, after reorganizing, I felt a surge of positive energy. But many times, it left me feeling more anxious.

I’m definitely not saying that “getting organized” is a bad thing. To feel organized is a wondrous experience.  (As a matter of fact, I’ll share with you my favorite tool for staying organized.  It’s an app called Workflowy.  I’ve used it for six months and I’m much more focused and productive.  I can access my To-Do list anytime and everywhere.  Plus, it has not cost me a dime.  You can try it here:

What I am saying, however, is that sometimes stopping work to get reorganized is just another way to procrastinate, and can kill your productivity.

For example, researchers from Portland State and the University of Michigan took 214 office workers and determined who of the group were thriving and who were struggling with fatigue.  The results were not only interesting, they hit me right on my “to do” list.

When the struggling group felt low energy, it would attempt to re-energize by “making a to-do list.”  The thriving group chose to “set a new goal.”

There is a subtle difference between reorganizing a To Do list and choosing a goal to chase, but that distinction can make a big difference in your energy, productivity and attitude.  The next time you feel overloaded remember this Core Concept—Positive Motion Creates Positive Emotion.

The bottom line, make your reaction to distraction action (Does that sound a bit too “motivational speaker-ish?”)

If you know the high points of what you must get accomplished, goals energize you more than To-Do lists.

Have you ever reorganized when you in fact needed to take action?  In what situations at work is “getting organized” or the “action reaction” better for you? Your fellow subscribers and I would love to hear about it!  Join the discussion and comment below!



Andy Core is a credentialed, award-winning thought leader on increasing employee engagement, productivity, and wellness motivation. His talent lies in helping hard-working, conscientious adults thrive at work and in their personal lives.

Andy also wrote the book Change Your Day, Not Your Life, a guide to sustained motivation and more productivity.

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Change Your Day, Not Your Life
A realistic guide to sustained motivation, more productivity, and the art of working well
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About Andy Core
Author and speaker on work-life balance, productivity and wellbeing
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