Over the last weeks, I have struggled to get things done. I keep putting too many things on my daily to-do lists. And I keep failing to get all the things done.

And what is even worse: I can see that I get less done in a typical day because I’m overwhelmed by the amount of items on my to-do list. Which leads to distraction, procrastination, and a lack of energy and motivation.

(And yes, I realize the irony: One of my key messages to my clients is that they should sharpen their focus and not put too many things on their daily to-do list for these exact reasons. Sometimes the advice you give to others is the advice you need most yourself…)

But instead of hammering myself with guilt and criticism, I’ve decided to take a positive spin on this: Experiencing these struggles is a great opportunity for me to experiment with my own approach. Which (if it works) can benefit my clients directly.

The experiment

So for the next weeks, I’ve decided to make a very simple change to my planning and my to-do list.

I simply decide (the day before, when I plan my day) which task that is The Most Important Task for Tomorrow.

The rules are simple:

  • I must label one (and only one) task as the most important one
  • If I’m tempted to mark two tasks important, I force myself to move one of them to a future date. Otherwise I know that I’ll be lacking focus and energy again.
  • Let me repeat: There can only be one most important task for each day.
  • I put the task at the top of my to-do list for the next day and put a clear label on it. Examples:
    • “TODAY’S TASK: Export the figure that illustrates a typical series of coaching sessions and publish it on my website”
    • “TODAY’S TASK: Overcome my resistance to processing photos and spend at least 10 minutes in Lightroom”

How is this unique?

It’s not :-)

I’m far from the first person to try out this concept. For example, I know that Leo Babauta (who writes the amazing Zen Habits blog) has tried this approach.

But one thing is having a theoretical knowledge about a technique. Another thing is applying it to your own life and seeing how it works. So that’s what I’m trying now.

How is this different from what I’ve done before?

Up until this experiment, I would decide on roughly 3 important tasks for the day. Sometimes more.

And up until this experiment, I rarely made a clear label on my to-do list to highlight the most important task(s).

My progress so far

I’ve tried this experiment for 4-5 days now, and I can say for sure that it already has made a clear difference.

So far, there has been 1 day where I did not pull myself together to do the most important task for that day. But I’ve succeeded the other days. Which is a great feeling! Because recently I have postponed certain tasks over and over (tasks which are important for the success of my business but which do not have a fixed deadline).

I’m still putting too many things on my to-do list (besides the one important task). Which is something I strongly discourage! But I have realized that at the moment, I’m not willing to change this pattern, even though it goes against my own advice to most of my clients.

Next steps

I’ll make at least one update about my progress within the next 2 weeks to keep you informed about how my experiment is going.

In the meantime, I encourage you to try the experiment yourself if you have similar struggles. Maybe it will make a difference for you as well?

PS: An alternative for you is of course to cut down on the number of items on your to-do list! Highly recommended! Works like a charm! And for most people it will give much better results than I expect this experiment to give (but I can only find out for sure by going on with my experiment…)


PS: I’ve posted two follow-ups to this blog post:
My initial observations after 1 week of trying out the experiment
Enjoying the power of my “Most Important Thing for Today” trick

New experiment: The Most Important Thing for Today