to-do-listThe majority of you have a to-do list next to you as you are reading this – whether it’s on a piece of scrap paper, in an organized diary, or saved in an app on your smartphone.

What if I told you that this is making you less effective?

I can hear gasps of horror from all the time-management coaches reading this.

I know that there have been volumes written on the subject — all extolling the virtues of to-do lists and matrices to organize your life.

The trouble with to-do lists is that we put down all the things that we need to get done that day on the list.

Each time we cross something off it, we get a kick of dopamine. It's highly addictive.

Like most things highly addictive, it's also not very good for us.

Why's that? Because when we're addicted to crossing the things off the list, it’s the crossing the things off that becomes more important than what's actually getting done. It's the hit of dopamine we get from accomplishing the task that we're actually working for. The short-term high, rather than the long-term gain.

When you're in the business of success, this is dangerous. You can apply the thinking to business success, client success, and personal success equally.

Running a marketing agency means I am responsible for ensuring the business generates marketing success for our clients. As a result, the team needs to generate a target number of quality leads. There's plenty of things we can and need to do to achieve this success.

To guarantee success, we need to be able to identify the things that matter the most -- the thing or things that are most likely to generate a successful outcome.

Of all things that we can do, there is always going to be something that is more likely to achieve success than anything else we can do.

We need to move away from just getting things done. To be really successful, we need to identify, focus on, and achieve the most important thing we can do to contribute to our success goal.

We should tackle this top priority before we work on anything else. Otherwise, we risk getting distracted — by the things we need to cross off our to-do list, the emails, or other demands.

The real problem is that if we get distracted by something unrelated, we still have a chance of getting ourselves back on track. But if we get deceived by completing everything on our to-do list, we'll never know we didn't put enough time and effort into the most important thing — until the opportunity is lost.

So what is the solution?

Rename your to-do list. Call it your ‘Success list'.

Rather than putting down all the tasks you can do on the list - ask yourself:

What is the best thing I can do today to achieve my success goal?

This should be the first thing on your list. Focus on it until it is done. You can then identify the next most important thing, and then next. Approach each with all your focus.

I'm not suggesting that if you are managing large projects or working on many tasks and clients that you don't need a structured master list. You'll definitely need that.

Each day, review your success goals, review your master list, and select the items you’ll transfer to your daily success list.

What this is all about is making your daily to-do list 10 times more powerful than it currently is.

It is only a small change in practice, but a massive change in thinking. It will supercharge the results from your task lists, and help you focus when distraction inevitably pop up.

What tips do you have for being more successful, not just efficient, each day?

Originally published Oct 14, 2014 8:00:40 AM, updated December 03 2014