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An Alternative to To-Do Lists for Getting Tasks Done

An Alternative to To-Do Lists for Getting Tasks DoneMost of us use some kind of to-do list, whether it’s tasks scribbled on a sticky note (like me), projects typed into a computer or an app on your phone, or a snapshot of your day written into a planner.

Author Sam Bennett finds to-do lists to be “too dictatorial.” It makes her feel like a high schooler who’s being told to do her homework.

Instead, she prefers creating a could-do list.

These very words, “could do,” remind her that she has a choice about the tasks she works on.

She talks about this in her newest book, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes A Day, which offers insights, tips and techniques for accomplishing your creative goals.

“I could do the laundry, or I could walk around in dirty, smelly clothes. I have a choice. Even if the task is something I know I must do, I feel more relaxed if I remember that I have the option to not do it,” writes Bennett, also an actor and teacher who specializes in creativity, productivity and personal branding.

She also recommends a kind of worksheet to accompany your could-do list. She uses this worksheet any time her list of tasks gets too long or unwieldy.

Specifically, it takes into account several important things: time, finances, your potential return on investment, and whether you want to do the task in the first place.

To create the worksheet Bennett suggests separating your page into these columns:

  1. Task. Simply list the task or project.
  2. Time. Estimate how long the task will take.
  3. Expense. Estimate how much money the task will require (if any).
  4. Inclination. Consider — on a scale of 1 to 10 — how much you actually want to do the task.
  5. Return on investment. Determine — also on a scale of 1 to 10 — how much you might get back from completing the task.

For instance, Bennett included the task of mailing a magazine clipping she thought a client would be interested in. This task had been on her could-do list for weeks. When she went through the worksheet, she realized that sending the clipping would only take 2 minutes and cost 44 cents. And she really wanted to do it (she scored it a “10”), and she predicted a big return (this also got a “10”).

Bennett mailed out the clipping along with a brief note that day. Three days later her client called to request another 10 sessions.

“That little could-do item netted me more than a thousand dollars, but more than that, it helped me be the kind of person I want to be — the kind who sends thoughtful little notes to clients that I like.”

Bennett has used this technique for a broad range of tasks, including prioritizing her projects for the holidays.

Creating a could-do list (and considering factors like time and desire) gives you the opportunity to be intentional about your days. It helps you feel less shackled to shoulds — I should do that — and become more mindful of how you really want to live.

An Alternative to To-Do Lists for Getting Tasks Done

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). An Alternative to To-Do Lists for Getting Tasks Done. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.