Before you read this blog post, take a second to look at your to-do list. Notice anything off?
If you’re like the vast majority of people, your tasks are listed out in a series of declarative instructions: Make 20 prospecting calls before 10 a.m. Prepare for two demos this afternoon. Follow-up with that prospect who went dark last quarter. Source new leads in your territory. Make 20 more prospecting calls before you leave for the day.
While that may not seem weird to you (it certainly didn’t to me), this method of writing to-do lists may actually be slowing you down. Instead, to make your to-do list into a productivity tool in its own right, make one simple change: Rephrase all your tasks as questions.
Haim Pekel, CEO and co-founder of digital marketing agency Press On It, explains that this technique helps him view mundane tasks as motivating challenges.
Pekel applied this strategy to both his personal and professional lives, rewriting tasks like “Do the laundry” as “Can you finish the laundry by 8 p.m.?” This phrasing signals the brain that there’s a reward to be had from finishing the task, and kick-starts the process of planning how exactly the laundry will get done.
The three benefits of writing to-do lists in this way, according to Pekel, are:
The question-based phrasing transforms your to-do list into a challenge to be conquered, not a list of mundane obligations.
Phrasing tasks as questions motivates you to look for answers, which fights procrastination.
Actions with question marks next to them force you to start planning how you’ll accomplish larger tasks.
Here’s how to transform your sales to-do list into a productivity tool that can work for you, using the sample sales to-do list referenced at the top of this article.
To-Do List: Before
Make 20 prospecting calls before 10 a.m.
Prepare for two demos this afternoon
Follow up with a prospect who went dark last quarter
Source new leads in my territory
Make 20 more prospecting calls before the end of the day
Reframe quantity-based tasks as challenges: “Can I make 20 prospecting calls before 10 a.m.?” If you have multiple quantity-based items, up the ante. This sales rep, for example, could reframe her second prospecting block like this: “Can I double the amount of prospecting calls I make before I leave for the day?”
Items that require more thought should be asked as “how” or “why” questions. Not only does writing the item as a question in this way automatically start the planning process (even if only subconsciously), it also helps you refine the way you approach the task and demonstrates whether it’s important at all.
For example, “Source new leads in my territory” can be rephrased as “How am I going to source new leads in my territory?”, leading to a more targeted, deliberate approach. “Follow up with a prospect who went dark last quarter” can be rewritten as “Why am I following up with this prospect who went dark?”, ensuring that there’s actually a good reason for doing so.
Here’s the to-do list after applying Pekel’s strategy:
To-Do List: After
Can I make 20 prospecting calls before 10 a.m.?
What do I need to do to be prepared for my two demos this afternoon?
Why am I following up with this prospect who went dark?
How am I going to source new leads in my territory?
Can I double the amount of prospecting calls I make before I leave for the day?
How do you write your to-do lists? Will you try this unusual hack? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally published May 11, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021