Why To-do lists don’t work
Did you know that studies have shown that to-do lists don’t really work?
This is because the human brain can really only handle a list of 7 or 8 things and even then, we often get overwhelmed with where to start, what to prioritize, and often self-sabotage by continuously adding to these lists.
In addition, (especially in this work from home world) we can easily create confusion seeing home tasks and workout goals mixed with work tasks.
(Above: My disorganized to-do this from this summer. Took me a week to complete all these tasks and I never felt on top of any of it. I also have my notes from a Business Networking meeting on the same page. Very confusing.)
If this sounds like you, let me offer a different way to think about your daily tasks and workout goals.
It is a self-coaching concept called simply: The Model.
This was first developed by life coaching guru Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School (www.thelifecoachingschool.com).
Here are the basic tenets:
If you are feeling stuck, every issue can be placed into one of 5 categories: Circumstances, Results, Actions, Feelings, Thoughts.
Circumstances describe reality. All ~7 billion people on earth must agree this as true. For instance, a circumstance may be: It is 2021. I live in Florida. I own a business.
No judgments. You are just reporting facts.
Results are what you want to create. For example: I want to run a 5k in under 25 minutes. I want to create $20k more income in 2021. I want to buy a house. I want to find a life partner, etc.
Actions are what you take to create the results you want. For example: I schedule 3 workouts per week, I set up work out buddies to keep me accountable, and I lay out my workout clothes and equipment every night by 9PM. Or, I make 3 phone calls to potential clients each day before 11AM. I reach out to a mortgage lender. I set up 4 dates per month.
Feelings are what you want to experience as you are doing these actions. For example: I will feel excited about wearing my new running shoes to workout. I will feel happy to get up and get moving early in the morning as I am meeting my good friend to workout. I will feel confident when making my phone calls as I am making an offer to help people.
Thoughts are the sentences in our brains that influence our feelings. For example: I will think “this workout is doing great things for my mind and body”. “Creating $20K in extra income will help me get ahead on my student loan debts and help me feel less burdened”. “Buying a house will help me build equity and wealth for my future self”. “Dating is great practice to help me determine what I am looking for in a potential life partner”, etc.
The way these categories are inter-related is that your thoughts create your feelings which influence your actions which lead to the results you are getting. Therefore, whatever is going on in your brain is causing you to get the results in your life you currently have.
So what does this have to do with a to-do list?
Most times our to-do list is a random assortment of actions and our brain can’t see how they all fit into a desired result:
“buy groceries, mow the lawn, order shoes, take out trash, call Jenn, pay bill, sign up for event, hydrate, wash clothes, etc.”
This list could be for a medical student just starting residency, a retired grandparent getting ready to go on a dream family vacation, or an athlete training for the Olympics! See how nothing in this list gets you excited about why you need to get all these things accomplished?
The medical student may need to hydrate because she is going to be heading into an 8 hour surgery and won’t have scheduled breaks. The grandparent may need to call her daughter Jenn to confirm departure times so no one misses the plane. The Olympic hopeful may need to order those shoes so he has a backup for next month’s training camp in the mountains (hey, call me!)
Notice how much more exciting these tasks become now that they are leading to some really cool result?
So here is my tip for you if you find yourself all over the place with your to-do lists: create your own model.
Fill in each line of the model for each result you want to create and work backwards. Write down the circumstance, think about the results you want, come up with a list of actions you will take to achieve those results, brainstorm how you want to feel while performing those actions, and then think about the thoughts that will serve you on this journey.
Here is an actual example model that I wrote on my notes in my phone on at 5:41PM on April 30th, 2021, the eve before I raced a 5k:
Circumstance: There is a race tomorrow for which I am signed up.
Results: Run a sub 17:36 (5:40/mile) 5k
Actions: eat well tonight, hydrate with Nuun and water, get to bed early, wake up at 4AM, eat breakfast, stretch, relax on drive to Jacksonville, warm up jog for 20 minutes, drills, strides. Race plan: get out hard, focus on pushing the pace on mile 2, bring it home in final mile
Feelings: relaxed, calm, excited, focused, kind to myself, fun!
Thoughts: I am ready. I am fit. I have done the work. Stay on it. Relax and go. You got this. You are doing so well. Relax your face. Front to back with arms. Quick feet. Kick my own butt!
This model was SO helpful. It eliminated so much mental confusion. I had a thorough plan and all I had to do was follow it. The result? A 17:25 5k and I had such a fun time doing it. Seriously.
Give the model a try for the next thing you want to accomplish. Whether it is cleaning out your closet or closing a big business deal, writing out a model simplifies everything in your already over-stimulated brain.
Eliminate the drama.
Get to the finish line faster.
If this concept intrigues you and you want to further explore what results you can accomplish in your life and running, check out the Faster 5k by Fall life coaching for runners program at
And let’s chat!
So many AMAZING things are just waiting to happen for you! I’d love to help you realize them.