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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How Your To-Do List Can Make You Feel Happy (in Addition to Wildly Productive)

I’m a huge believer in to-do lists. I make them for every project, situation, and assignment—in fact, if there was an apocalypse, chances are I’d immediately write one up. (Step 1: Find shelter. Step 2: Obtain water. Step 3: Update Twitter?)

However, I realized recently there was a huge problem with my system: It doesn’t make me happy.

Productive? Yes. Joyous? No.

But maybe that wasn’t the list’s fault—maybe it was the items on it.

After all, here’s a pretty representative sample:

  • Write CTO update
  • Submit expense report
  • Follow up with Phat

These things definitely need to get done. However, while they’re important for my career, they’re not geared toward the things that actually make me happy. As Strayer University found last year, most people achieve success from building great relationships, achieving personal goals, and loving what they do—not by accumulating money, power, or other more traditional markers of success.

So, to reflect this, I decided to try adding a new section to my to-do list: a “real success” section. These goals would be centered on my relationships, personal goals, and passions.

Build Great Relationships

In general, I strive to form genuine connections with everyone I meet.

However, I decided to boost my efforts with these to-dos:

  • Ask two new co-workers to grab lunch this week
  • Do something nice for a friend
  • Be more patient with my colleague and project teammate, Michael

Having these as items on my to-do list—rather than merely thinking, “Oh, I should cut Michael some slack”—made them much easier to achieve.

And when I did achieve them, I definitely got a mood boost. The lunches gave me a chance to make new friends, and doing a favor for an existing one was really gratifying. Plus, Michael became easier to work with when I became noticeably more laid-back during our meetings.

Accomplish Personal Goals

When I tried to think of some personal items to add to my to-do list, I realized I hadn’t thought about any non-professional ambitions in a while. Not good—over-focusing on work definitely won’t make me happy.

After some thought, I came up with:

  • Run a marathon
  • Explore my passion for UI and UX

Those are big goals. To make them less intimidating, I broke them up into concrete tasks. Here’s what I actually added to my to-do list:

  • Sign up for April marathon
  • Pick out training plan
  • Complete first week of training
  • Buy book about UI design
  • Research free UX courses

Every time I completed one of these items, I felt a rush of satisfaction and pride. And of course, each one brought me closer to achieving the big picture—which will definitely make me happy!

Love What I Do

As fellow Muse writer Kat Boogaard explained, even when you love what you do, there will always be some parts of your work that, well, you don’t love.

That’s why I decided to choose something about my job that I’m not crazy about—and figure out what will make it more enjoyable

Take freelance writing for example: While I love the actual writing part, I don’t love interviewing people. Even after conducting hundreds of them, I still get nervous. I worry about asking the right questions, sounding awkward, missing key information—and while those concerns are little, they still make my toes curl up.

So the challenge was to figure out how I could love (or at least enjoy) giving interviews.
I decided most of my issues stemmed from feeling unprepared.

So here’s what I added to my list:

  • Write out 10 main questions and 10 back-up questions
  • Practice what you’ll say as an intro, no matter how dorky it feels
  • Spend 20 minutes beforehand researching interviewee

With these items completed, the interview was actually pretty fun.

If you want to feel happier, I definitely recommend adding a new section to your to-do list. It doesn’t have to align with my three categories (although, as you know, I think that’s a good starting point!). Just strive to pick tasks that’ll make you smile.

Photo of man writing courtesy of Shutterstock.