Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (and What to Do Instead)

It’s extremely easy to lose track of your goals without even realizing it.
Earlier this week, I talked about:
Even if you implement the to-dos in the above articles—even if your system is perfect—you’ll still falter along the way if you don’t take the time to review how you’re performing. I recently stumbled upon the daily schedule Benjamin Franklin kept:

Woah! Dude was super reflective. 
He started the day by asking himself, “What good will I do today?,” and ended the day by asking, “What good have I done today?”. He also took time at the beginning, middle, and end of each day for examining and reflecting on his work. One of the most prolific and accomplished people ever took the time to reflect, plan, and organize at least three times a day. 
This astounds me. 
I don’t know anyone who reflects this much. Honestly, no one. And I’m starting to think that’s a big part of the reason so few of us are feeling like we’re living lives at the perfect level of productivity and achievement we desire. We aren’t measuring success. We aren’t reviewing results or assessing the data. 
Every moment is a data point—and yet, none of us take time to track and reflect on those data points. Reviewing and goal setting are things people do at the very beginning and end of a year, and not so much in the bulk of the middle. The problem is we’re missing incredible opportunities to learn, iterate, and grow. 
So, even if you’ve got a perfect system and you know exactly what you want to achieve, none of it really matters if you’re not reviewing your successes, failures, triggers, and habits frequently.
The remedy for that is the very powerful and important weekly review. I do my weekly review every Sunday, late in the afternoon (before I get too tired). Leo Babauta wrote a few fantastic (and simple) articles on weekly reviews:
Those two links above give you a pretty good overview of how to conduct a weekly review. The basic steps for my personal weekly review are as follows:
  1. Find a one-hour time block you can commit to each week. Babauta suggests a Monday or Friday, but I think weekends work best. Less stressful.
  2. Plan to not miss a single weekly review. It’ll throw you off for the week ahead, and before you know it, your goals will be a hot mess. 
  3.  Fill out my weekly review form. Here’s the one I created for myself:


In case you have a hard time reading the categories above…


The lines in grey comprise the bulk of the weekly review. Most of them are self-explanatory, but I’ll get into how I use Wunderlist tomorrow, because it’s important (a to-do list manager, but I utilize mine very differently than a normal to-do list). 

The reflection questions are also great. They are a way for you to stop and soak in how the past week was for you—along with setting intentions for the week ahead. You can tailor this weekly review to work for you, but this is a comprehensive template for you to work off of if you need a place to start. 

The weekly review is one of my favorite times of the week. I haven’t been doing it for too long, but I’ve seen a huge difference in how I spend my time when I actually review what I’ve done and plan for what I want to accomplish in the week ahead. 

Happy weekly reviewing!

The Most Effective Goal-Setting Plan You’ll Ever Find.


A few days ago, I taked about the #1 reason why people don’t accomplish their goals: lack of genuine connection and commitment to them. 

But once you’ve figured out what you really want to do, you still need a strategy for accomplishing it. Your goals are not going to get you anywhere if you don’t actually do something about them. And not just anything—but the right things.

So here’s a very straightforward, fail-proof plan for achieving your goals. I say it’s fail-proof not because error isn’t possible (no one can predict the future or control all circumstances), but because if you follow this plan, you’ll accomplish more than you would under any other plan you’ve been testing out. 

1.) Focus on only 1-2 BIG goals. Seriously.

Now that you’ve figured out how you’re spending time each week, let’s switch gears for a moment. Figure out what your one major goal is this year. I have two major goals—one personal, one career-driven—but wouldn’t advise choosing more than 1-2. 

This is the hardest part for most people because choosing just one BIG goal to pursue requires extreme focus and connection to purpose.

But, it’s really important that you stick to just 1-2 major goals. Goals to me are different than habit changes, which I talk more about here. Your 1-2 goals should be so big, that it would take an entire year to accomplish. If you were to accomplish only these 1-2 things, you’d feel like you had a very successful year.


  • Lose 40 pounds
  • Successfully launch a startup and drive $100k in revenue
  • Get into a top graduate school
  • Learn how to code and land a job as a front-end developer
  • Save for and take a month-long trip to backpack through Southeast Asia

Based on what you really want to accomplish—where your deepest values, passions, and skills intersect—choose 1-2 goals to focus on for the rest of the year. Do not aim for “reasonable.” Be a bit unreasonable. What do you really want to accomplish this year? That’s what you should make your goal.

2.) Create monthly sub-goals. 

Once you’ve created your 1-2 Big Goals, create 9 monthly sub-goals (April - December 2013) for each one. The idea is that the 9 monthly sub-goals would very clearly lead to you accomplishing your 1-2 Big Goals for the year. You can obviously plan for more than 9 months. I just set 9 months as a goal in case you’re reading this now and want to set goals for 2013 specifically. Feel free to plan into 2014 if your Big Goals are going to take you longer than 9 months to accomplish.


Big Goal: Learn how to code and land a job as a front-end developer.


  • April - Apply and get into the Starter League Beginner HTML/CSS class
  • May - Take Starter League (SL) class & code my own personal blog for practice
  • June - Continue taking SL class, finish coding the blog, and work on a Demo Day project
  • July - Finish SL class & find a company to let me do front-end coding for free to help them redesign a website
  • August - Apply and get into the Starter League Advanced HTML/CSS class
  • September - Continue taking SL class, finish up coding for the company side project
  • October - Finish SL class and take on one more front-end freelance project for another company
  • November - Finish freelance project #2 and apply to a minimum of 8 front-end developer jobs
  • December - Interview with companies, apply to 5 more jobs if necessary…and land a full-time developer job by 12/31!

When you break your Big Goal down this way, you can see the natural progression of your goal and exactly what would need to be done each month in order for you to get a job as a front-end developer by December 31st. Breaking it down this way makes the end goal seem even more tangible. It will get you super excited about the idea of taking on your plan and tackling that one big, amazing goal of yours.

3.) Create weekly mini-goals. 

If you put my post from earlier this week into action, you’ve figured out the 20% of your work that’s driving 80% of your results. Now, the question is: what systems can you put in place to do less of the 80% of activity that isn’t generating results, and more of the 20% activity that is?  


80% of work that isn’t driving a ton of results:

  1. Checking email for 4 hours a day
  2. Using social media too often throughout the day
  3. Taking too many meetings during the week

Strategies to eradicate the issues above:

  1. Check email for only 2 hours a day—one hour between 11-12pm, and one hour between 4-5pm. Use Inbox Zero techniques to answer, archive, and delete more emails in half the time.
  2. Block social media websites between the hours of 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm using one of these distraction blocking apps.
  3. Only take meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-3pm. If it doesn’t fit into the other person’s schedule, the meeting gets pushed to the following week. Exceptions can be made, but only if the meeting is of extremely high importance and/or urgency.

Once you create a list of strategies, use those—in addition to your set of monthly sub-goals—as a guide, and create 32 mini goals (this translates into 4 mini goals per month—one for each week). Each mini-goal should take no longer than a week to accomplish. Essentially, the mini goals are a way to further break down your monthly goals into highly manageable weekly chunks. 


April sub-goal - Apply and get into the Starter League Beginner HTML/CSS class

April weekly mini-goals - 

  • Week 1: Do research on Starter League program
  • Week 2: Submit formal application for Starter League
  • Week 3: Send hand-written notes to the founders to let them know how excited I am about taking the SL class
  • Week 4: Get accepted into SL and set up coffee meetings with 3 alums to get advice on making the most of the class

When you break your monthly sub-goals down like this, you basically create a detailed road map for making shit happen. It seems so obvious, but no one plans like this. That’s why most people fail (in addition to not creating strategies to eradicate triggers that lead to wasting time). 

4.) Do your weekly planning.

Based on the weekly goals you outlined for the current month you’re in, you need to set aside 30 minutes to create a weekly “plan of attack” for accomplishing your mini-goal for the week ahead. I created this template  of what your weekly planning sheet could look like:


It’s a good idea to add in your Big Goal, monthly sub-goal, and weekly mini-goal at the top of your weekly sheet to remind you of what the whole point is with all this planning business and hard work. At the beginning of every week, you should know exactly what you’re looking to accomplish every day to achieve your weekly mini-goal—so that you can move on to your next mini-goal, in order to move on to your next sub-goal, in order to accomplish your one Big Goal.

Fun to look at it like this, right?

You’ll see that I listed “additional projects and tasks” on the weekly planning template I created above. That’s because none of us have just one responsibility. We’re all juggling multiple things at any given point in time. I’ll explain how to best fit these additional projects and tasks in later this week. The point of this sheet is to help you make the tasks that are directly related to your Big Goal a priority over the other stuff you have to do. This is a huge part of goal accomplishment—you need to be willing to get your goal-related tasks done first, even when you’ve got other important things going on. If you don’t get into the habit of doing this, you’ll fail because there’s simply too much other stuff out there to distract you from your longer-term goal. 

5.) Do your daily planning.

Once you’ve done your weekly planning, you need to set aside time to plan every single day for the upcoming day. I’ve soaked up a ton of productivity advice over the last several years, and this is something I hear from every productivity guru and successful person out there: 

You have to plan on your own success.

If you don’t break it down to what you’ll do every day, then there’s no way you’ll accomplish your weekly, monthly, or annual goals. Basically, if you don’t plan daily, you’re screwed. Either you’re going to own your day, or your day is going to own you. I see an enormous difference in my own productivity when I plan it out thoroughly vs. just wing it. Of course, your daily plan needs to go hand-in-hand with the strategies you implement to actively avoid time-wasting triggers and activities. 

Here’s an example of what your daily planning sheet can look like:


Obviously, I like colors. You can tailor your weekly and daily sheets to look however you want them to look, but these sheets work really well for me. 

You’ll notice a few new sections on this daily sheet. The first is “Today’s Top Tasks”—these are the top three things you must get done for the day. If you accomplish these three things only, your day will have been a success. At least one task should be related to your weekly mini goal. This is really important: make sure you get this task done before you do anything else on your daily task list. Do your top 3 tasks in order before you do anything else, and get them out of the way. Each task should take no longer than 90 minutes (…And yes, it’s possible to get your taxes done in under 90 minutes, depending on complexity—I’ve timed it). 

You’ll also notice a “Batch Tasks” section. This is a list of all the basic operational stuff you need to do your job, like coffee meetings to build new relationships, checking and answering email, getting organized, sending out email newsletters, etc. Basically, they are the tasks you need to do to keep things going, but aren’t really going to equate directly to “success” at the end of the year. 

For example, I need to publish content daily for Technori.com, but if I just focus on that, we’ll have a lot of content, but not that much growth. For me, a major sub-goal would be focusing on growth hacking strategies. Therefore, while very important, editing and publishing articles is actually not a top task for me—it’s a batch task. 

I’ll talk more about batch tasks this coming week, but I wanted to show them to you on the daily sheet for now, because it’s important to make note of and label them as such. 

As a note, I learned a lot of the above techniques from reading I’ve done over the years. My favorite thought leaders in this space are Steven CoveyLeo Babauta, and Brian Tracy. I would highly recommend reading any of the books these three guys have written, particularly Leo’s Power of Less. That being said, I’ve learned about and tested the psychology behind why we achieve and don’t achieve what we set out to do. So, I tailored the plan above based on what I’ve seen actually work and not work through my various productivity testing. I believe the plan above is the absolute best aggregated, tailored plan for making your goals a reality. 

So there you have it! An easy-as-they-come, fail-proof goal-setting (and achieving) method. Four steps. A lot of happiness and accomplished goals. Boom. Later this week, I’ll talk in depth about batch tasking and weekly reviews to keep you in check, streamline your time management processes, and stick to your goals. 

Hope you’ll pass this along to any one else who might find it useful!

You’ve Got to Disconnect From the Fake Stuff to Reconnect With the Real Stuff.

Life can get crazy, and we can easily get swept up in the craziness of it. 

In those moments, we scramble to do half-assed work, check things off a to-do list, and get to inbox zero. We try to put systems in place to become more efficient. We go to The Container Store and drop a lot of money on random bins and files and calendars we’ll probably never use. 

…but none of those actions ever feel quite right, do they? I don’t know about you, but often when I do these things, I get the overwhelming sense that I’m totally missing the mark. 

You see, that’s what happens when you get swept up in craziness: rather than running things, you become run by things. You can’t keep up. There’s always more stuff to do, errands to run, emails to answer, people to get back to. 

I suspect that the solution to the craziness is far more simple. 

Slow down. Eat a meal without opening up your computer or having a conversation. Wake up in the morning and, instead of checking your email, peer out of your window. Pause. Reflect. Smile. 

Cook a meal and invite friends over. Take a bubble bath. Stay in for the weekend. Shut off your email. Shut off your smartphone.

You’ve got to disconnect from the fake stuff to reconnect to the real stuff. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop trying to do more. Stop the glorification of busy. Just listen to your body, heart, and mind. Slow down, so you can speed up when it really matters. 

Just soak up and savor the moment you’re in, no matter how disorganized or hectic.  

Just appreciate today. 

And remember to breathe.