If Your To-Do List is Impossible, You’re Doing it Right

Here’s how a productivity writer approaches her to-do list

Kara Cutruzzula
Forge
Published in
4 min readNov 11, 2020

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Young woman standing on top of tall green bar graph against white background.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Although I write about creativity and productivity for a living, my to-do list is a nightmare. Every day, it’s about a page long with 40 to 50 items. There are categories, subcategories, incremental tasks. Do I check everything off my list every day? No. And that’s the entire point. My list is about the urgent, everyday things, but also about the larger scale, capital-I-Important things I don’t want to lose sight of.

It’s a mess but it’s an inspiring mess. If you keep the bigger possibilities visible — through, yes, staring them down every morning — you remember what all the smaller tasks are in service of. Here’s how to start a whole new to-do list that includes everything you really want to do.

Start with the moonshots

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable. Many people are taking advantage of the turmoil and disruption to their daily routines. You or someone you know is likely at the beginning of a career change, or decided to go back to school, or move to a new city. These big gestalt-shifting goals are like shooting for the moon.

Even if the moonshots don’t feel tangible right now, know this: They deserve to be on your list. Otherwise, every morning you’re staring down a list of “respond to emails,” “schedule afternoon Zoom,” and “follow up with accounting.” Not exactly inspiring stuff.

You can and should think beyond your immediate tasks. One helpful question to ask yourself is, “Where do I want to be in six months?”

Catalog your ‘phantom tasks’

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Kara Cutruzzula
Forge
Writer for

Author of DO IT (OR DON'T), DO IT TODAY & DO IT FOR YOURSELF. Daily newsletter: https://bit.ly/3vpPlV3