3 Reasons Why Your To Do List Never Gets Done

I’m constantly getting emails from people asking about to-do lists and how to get them done. I’ve been a diary and organiser enthusiast since I was a teenager and I’ve written several articles about organisation and to-do lists but task completion can be really tough. I’ve done a little troubleshooting and identified 3 reasons why your to-do list never gets done. Let me know how close I got.

1. The problem: You don’t know how to complete one of your tasks

If you have a task that has featured on your to-do list every day this week but you haven’t been able to tick it off you’re probably subconsciously finding the task a little scary. You’ve probably skipped through a whole bunch of familiar items, balked when you’ve reached the scary thing and either skipped it or spent all afternoon on Facebook pretending like you’re just about to do the scary thing but never actually doing the scary thing… I’m right, aren’t I? Read on for the answer to your Scary Task troubles.

The solution: You need to open the file

If you have a daunting task to complete, the first thing you need to do is open the file in your brain where that item is stored. The way to do this is to spend 20 minutes working on the task. Only 20 minutes. Then walk away and come back to it later. By spending 20 minutes ‘opening the file’ it completely changes the way you think about the task. It’s like when you hear a scary noise outside and you imagine it’s a giant horrible monster trying to climb on to the roof and when you investigate the noise, you discover it’s just the wind knocking a tree branch against the house. It’s the same with scary tasks – you imagine that they’re going to be stressful and time-consuming and more often than not, they’re quite manageable. So open the file and take away the power of the scary task. The next time you come back to the task after you’ve opened the file, you’ll knock it over in no time. Easy.

coffee, laptop on wood floor with flower


2. The problem: You really, really don’t want to do a particular task

It’s a disappointing fact but once you’re a grown-up you pretty much have to do something every single day that you don’t want to do. Unload the dishwasher, answer your emails, go to the gym. Most people will end up with 2 or 3 tasks like this left on their to-do list every day because they’ve been procrastinating and putting off the unpleasant thing that they don’t want to do. These tasks are different to scary tasks. With scary tasks, you don’t know what’s going to happen. With unpleasant tasks, you KNOW it’s going to be bad so naturally, you avoid it.

The solution: You need to rip off the band-aid

The less you think about an unpleasant task the easier it is to deal with. Try to make it a game and get the yucky thing out of the way as quickly as possible. Try unloading the dishwasher in an ad break of your favourite TV show, answering emails in the half an hour you have before you’re meeting a friend for dinner or go to the gym in your lunch break to limit the amount of time you can spend dicking around. Oh and once you have a hold of the band-aid, rip it off. Don’t just stand there holding the end of it… if you’re holding the end of a band-aid, your hands aren’t free to do anything else.

3. The problem: You think you’re Beyoncé

So you saw this incredibly unhelpful meme…

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 9.17.40 pm

And you thought ‘Yeah! Damn right I have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé! WHO RUNS THE WORLD? GIRLS!!!’. And then you wrote a to-do list that looks like this –

1.  1 hour on the treadmill

2.  2 hours yoga

3. 1-hour personal training session

4.  Activate almonds

5.  45 minutes mindfulness meditation

6. Volunteer at local soup kitchen

7. Bake vegan organic unicorn fart cupcakes for co-workers birthday

8. Hand wash son/daughter/fur baby’s organic cotton nappies

9. Work 16 hour day at non-profit organisation that helps all the people

10. Have meaningful sex/conversation with lover/friend

11. Have some ‘me’ time

12. Daily full clean of house including behind the fridge and that weird part of the floor that the vacuum doesn’t reach

13. Deep condition hair and shave legs

14. Get a full 8 hours sleep

15. Juice cleanse

The solution: realise that you aren’t Beyoncé

I’m all for a positive affirmation and anything that encourages people to get up off their butts and do something is excellent, but this meme shits me. Yes, technically speaking Beyoncé DOES have the same about of hours in the day as everyone else but she also has lots of money and staff which reduces this list of 15 items to a list of about five items most of which are exercise and sex. Sounds brilliant but it’s unrealistic for 99.9% of the population. Be honest with yourself and limit your daily tasks to things that are achievable. Hint: Be kind to yourself. Regular cupcakes are fine, they don’t all need unicorn farts in them.

How’s your to-do list looking today?

PS. Don’t let Beyonce make you feel inadequate…


  1. Christine 7 years ago

    I do that at work – put off working on files that are difficult until I can’t put it off any longer. I then decide to tackle it first thing in the morning when I’m fresh. Once it’s done, I always feel great and just about every time think “that wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be”. Sometimes though, it is just plain nasty and I might have been known to sneak those files back on the boss’s desk. x

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      That’s what bosses are for! Although I’m my own boss and she HATES it when I leave the hard tasks to her. 🙂

      • sarahn 3 years ago

        You both have bosses that DO WORK? Wow, tell me more. I have a boss who I’m not convinced can do anything but ask questions without answers and open and close his mouth without sound escaping. It’s bizarre and really uninspiring.

  2. KellyNH 7 years ago

    7. Bake vegan organic unicorn fart cupcakes for co-workers birthday

    I totally manage to do this everyday.
    As well as enjoy ‘quality me time’ while my beautifully behaved, immaculately groomed,designer dressed (and definitely not smelly) children are studying their Latin books very quietly :o)

    But, in real life, I feel like Im staggering and blundering through each day achieving not much in general…..Im sure Im not alone though!!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      Absoutely not alone! Everyone feels like that because only show the parts of their lives that are fabulous. Every one struggles that’s why it’s important to be good to yourself.

  3. homebase5 7 years ago

    Number 3 a big one for me (and crushed to know I’m not Beyoncé!) – thanks for putting it so clearly!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      It was a risky move telling everyone that they’re not Beyonce but we all need to be reminded of it from time to time. 🙂

  4. OMG I totally forgot the active the almonds again! I’m going back to bed 😛

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      Well you’ve basically just ruined the whole week now. 🙂

  5. That meme shits me to tears too! And for all the same reasons! The fact that I had an anxiety attack this morning and still managed to come to work and that I’m actually looking forward to yoga tonight is a victory in itself for me today. x

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      I know right? I’m tired of people beating themselves up because they aren’t as perfect as people with extraodinary resources. We need to work with what we have and if that means a half hour walk before some wine then so be it!

  6. Johanna 7 years ago

    There’s just too much pressure on us all to be perfect and do so much these days. Beyonce and anyone giving the impression of perfection should be strangled. We all need to take more time and sit down with a nice cup of tea. In a pretty garden. And reduce our to-do lists 😉 But I did love your take on to-do lists too 🙂

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      Exactly! I’m a big advocate of reducing the to-do list… and I’ll put it into practice any day now!

  7. Ling @ Ling Out Loud 7 years ago

    I never get things done because I’m always procaffeinating! 😀

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 7 years ago

      Love this. I’m a procrasticleaner and a procrastibaker. 🙂

  8. Laney 7 years ago

    I am blushing to have been so accurately caught out with my ways of keeping my to do list ridiculously long. I will have a go at opening the file. This week. I’m on it, I swear.

  9. nessbow 7 years ago

    My trick for accomplishing the “I don’t want to” items on my list is music. I’ll pop on some really cheery tracks with a good beat and just make a start on the dishes/working out/ changing the sheets. it makes time pass so much more quickly, and I don’t even notice that I’m doing the thing I hate because I’m so focused on the tunes.

  10. rebeccassunday 7 years ago

    Baaaaahaha.. I swan between number 1 and number 3. A nice wake up call! Thank you.


  1. […] You can’t talk productivity without bringing Smaggle into the fray and she has two great posts on her site on the topic: one about writing realistic to-do lists, and one about the three reasons your to-do list isn’t getting done. […]

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