Prioritize your to-do list by asking why


When you tell a young child to do something–pick up their clothes, finish their veggies, do their chores–you invariably hear them ask “why?”

They don’t ask this because they want to drive us crazy, although I know you might disagree. “You don’t know my kid!” Mostly, they really do want to know why they should do what you’ve asked them to do.

In other words, why is it important?

They are learning about the world, trying to make sense of everything and how it all fits together. In that context,”Why do I have to finish my veggies–I don’t like them,” is not an unfair question. Why indeed should they finish them?

By the way, if my father is reading this, “Because I said so,” is not a good answer.

When you tell your children why something is important, why they should do it, even though they still may not like it, they will be more likely to do it. It’s not just something on a never-ending list of things children have to do, there’s actually a reason for it.

And yet as adults, we make lists of things we have to do without always understanding why. It shouldn’t surprise us then that our lists contain tasks that never seem to get done simply because we are not motivated to do them.

When you make a “to do” list, the parent in you is telling the child in you to do these things but not telling you why. Why not ask your inner parent why?

According to an article in Psychology Today, knowing “why” will help you accomplish more of the things on your task list, especially things you “have to” do but might not feel like doing.

The author recommends making a “why do” list rather than simply a “to do” list. Write down why a task is important, the benefits to be had for doing it. If those benefits are important to you, you’ll be more motivated to complete the task.

I love this idea. Not just because it helps us get things done we otherwise might not do but because it lets us compare the tasks on our list and see their relative value. This lets us prioritize our list so that we get the most valuable tasks done first.

In other words, knowing why helps us become more effective.

Right now, I’ve got hundreds of tasks on my master task list. I prioritize my list based more on gut feeling than anything else. Sure, there are tasks with deadlines and there are things I do every day because they are part of my long term business model. But most of the tasks on my list are discretionary and for those, I’m going to start writing down why.

Right now, I’m off to get another cup of coffee. Why? Because I said so.