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  • Writer's pictureDonna Richardson, CEC, ACC

Why your to-do lists aren't the issue

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

How often do you have one of those days where you say to yourself, “I didn’t get enough done,” or, “There’s more on my to-do list.”?

I can recall times when I found myself saying this. (OK, so it may have happened in the last month, as well.)

With the pace of life, many of us experience busyness and pressure to manage our time and check things off of our to-do list—at work and at home. This can lead us to think that we are not getting enough done, resulting in feelings of guilt, concern about disappointing others, and an urge to reprimand ourselves with ‘shoulds.’

SPOILER: The issue may not be time management

If the issue is simply about time management, there is no shortage of business tools, techniques and applications that can help, from project management applications to digital task lists linked to your calendar application. Chances are, you are already using some of them.

Basic tips on time management typically include things like:

  • setting goals correctly.

  • prioritizing wisely.

  • setting a time limit (deadlines) to complete a task.

  • taking a break to fresh yourself.

  • organizing yourself and your workspace.

  • removing non-essential tasks.

  • planning ahead.

These tools and techniques are useful, but what if the issue isn’t really about how you manage your time?

Not long ago, I found myself wondering whether I was being productive. I asked myself:

  • Did I get enough done today?

  • Did I check off everything on my to-do list?

  • Did I meet my (self-imposed) deadlines?

But are these really the right questions to ask? To get the right answer, we need to ask ourselves the right question.

Are you asking yourself the right questions?

What if we thought differently about how we are spending our time and began asking ourselves questions like:

  • Am I spending my time on the right things? (Are we spending our time on the right things?)

  • What is it that really matters to me? (What is it that really matters to our organization?)

  • What is my purpose? (What is our collective purpose?)

Knowing the answer to these questions can make all the difference—to our teams, our organizations and us.


Knowing our purpose helps us make the shift from putting in time to investing time. It also helps us make the shift from success to significance in life.


As leaders, when we help our teams know their collective purpose it is energizing, motivating and inspiring for them.

And it has an impact on productivity and performance.

“Purpose powers performance. It elevates leaders and teams to move from short-term success to long-term significance,” explains leadership development expert Kevin Cashman. “When purpose becomes personal, it becomes real and powerful.”

When you know your purpose and lead yourself well, you are better equipped to lead and support your team.

Discovering your purpose

“Purpose is not a goal to be set,” says Kashman. Rather, “It is something we discover.” It begins with self-awareness and personal reflection. He suggests that our core purpose is at the intersection of our core values—those values that matter most and which are constant—and our core talents—those skills and gifts that you’re good and which make you feel energized. (Read Knowing the secret to a happy life to learn more about the impact of knowing your purpose.)

How knowing your purpose can help with time management

“If you don’t know why, you can’t know how,” argues Simon Sinek.

Let’s be clear: being in the trenches, keeping balls in the air, meeting deadlines and checking things off of a to-do list are real pressures that most of us face. But instead of berating yourself for not accomplishing enough today, what if you stepped back for a moment to consider the long game?


How might being clear about your purpose (and that of your team) help you make decisions about managing time?


When I ran into this challenge recently, I started asking myself different questions, such as:

  • Did I spend my time in accordance with my values and purpose?

  • Did I learn something new today?

  • Did I serve or support someone today?

It’s true; I still have to-do lists and deadlines. But reminding myself of my purpose and granting myself a bit of grace helps me keep things in perspective.

If asking the right questions is what’s needed to come to the right answer, what questions would you ask yourself about how you’re managing your time?

If this article resonates with you and you think it would be helpful to others, I invite you to share it. Forward it to a friend or colleague, or post it on social media by clicking on the three dots above the title and to the right of my name at the top of this page.



Cashman, K. (2008). Leadership from the inside out: Becoming a leader for life. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Oakland, CA.


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