Earlier this month, I had an epiphany about to-do lists. Instead of treating them as a list, I think of them as setting intentions.
And it’s a very subtle shift in mindset. I still write my to-do list every morning, but what I’m telling myself is: “these are the things that I intend to do today.”

The idea of to-do lists feels rigid. It’s too black-and-white – either you do it, or you don’t. It’s a checklist – just another thing that I have to do. And when we cannot do what’s on the list, it derails our will and motivation.

Whereas if I set my intentions, I feel more in control. When I say, for example, that I want to work on a task or hobby today, it makes me ask what I need to do to accommodate that. The intention is slow-burning in my head, and ideas supporting that intention well up as I go through the day. It feels that I have a purpose, and I’m working towards it. And if I’m unable to accomplish my task, it may still feel bad, but I had the intention of doing it, and I end up with a handful of ideas I can try the next day.

What differentiates these two ideas is where they focus on the work we do. To-do lists side on our work being done; setting intentions focuses on the process and how we do our work. When we give our attention to the process, we learn and refine our work based on that. So even if we don’t reach our goal, there’s a certain level of growth and improvement that matters more than the things we want to achieve.

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