The Problem With To-Do Lists

It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Monday.

After a long weekend with the family, you’re back in the routine and it seems like a fresh reprieve from the responsibilities of parenthood. The familiar faces in your office look anything but exhilarated to be back at work. When you ask how they’re doing, they respond with a sarcastic, “another day in paradise.”

Yet you muster up some inspiration and sit down at your desk to map out the day ahead. Your final solace is your last, albeit lukewarm, sip of coffee.

Before you’re finished, the voicemail light on your phone begins flashing. As you go to check it, your cell phone buzzes with an incoming text. It’s your spouse reminding you to pay the hospital bill from last month’s emergency room visit with your son.

As you sign in to your online banking account to transfer the funds, an email flashes across the screen. One of your largest clients needed something five minutes ago. Just as you finish reading the email, the receptionist calls you over the intercom: your boss is holding on line two.

You can feel your blood pressure rise with each passing moment and you’re reminded of the doctor’s advice to slow down, lose some weight, and reduce your stress. That sounded logical in his office—now, not so much.

As the day comes to a close, there are still double-digit emails that need your attention. Oh yeah, and your voicemail light is still flashing.

By the time you get home, your patience is thin and your temper is on red alert. The grass needs cutting, someone has to prepare dinner, and the kids all need a bath. The weight of responsibility is drowning you, and if you’re not careful, your spouse and your kids may just bear the brunt of the storm.

How can you possibly get all of this done?

The Problem with To-Do Lists

In order to become more efficient at managing these responsibilities, we’re taught to prioritize our lives—time management becomes the buzzword. So we read books that tell us to divide our lives into quadrants and make to-do lists to ensure that we’re focused and efficient.

When and if we do, our lives will resemble a well-oiled machine of productivity.

But while these things are efficient at helping us get more done, they often fail in helping us define one key characteristic: who we are becoming.

If someone asked you what you’d like to get done today, I’m sure you could come up with a few things. More than that, if someone asked you what you’d like to accomplish over the next five years, there are probably a few things in the hopper that you’d be willing to put down.

But what if I asked you who you wanted to be?

It’s curious that little kids dream about what they want to be, but grown-ups always talk about what they do as a way define who they are.

Somewhere along the way, our hyper-focused culture has taught us that we become who we are by getting things done. Smartphones and microwaves have sped up that process and placed endless information at our fingertips, but we in turn, it has made us impatient and entitled.

And we still don’t get everything done.

Friends, getting more done is great, but have you ever stopped to consider why you want to do more?

Understanding that answer to this question will give you great insight into the motives beneath your actions.

In short, never sacrifice being for doing–what you do is never more important than who you are.

Making a To-Be List

I was talking with a good friend the other day and an idea sparked a great thought. Instead of making to-do lists, what if we made to-be lists?

What if we made lists that helped us measure our level of gratitude?

What if we made lists that helped us focus on our humility?

What if we spent time focusing on growing our level of generosity?

If our productivity and efficiency isn’t aligned with the person we want to become, we’re fighting a losing battle.

To combat this challenge, I’d encourage you to pick out one characteristic or quality that you would like to harness in your life. This isn’t something that you hope to do: this is something that you hope to become.

Maybe it’s patience, maybe it’s generosity, maybe it’s content, that’s for you to decide.

Once you begin filtering what you’re doing through this lens of who you want to become, it will create a simple shift in your perspective that will reinforce your core values.

Because someday, when they’re giving your eulogy, they’ll never truly appreciate what you did if they didn’t appreciate who you were.

So be someone amazing first and, I assure you, amazing things will follow.


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About the Author

Matt Ham is primarily a husband and father to three boys. As an author and speaker, he is dedicated to guiding others toward living a rich life. Through his RICH Principles he helps folks uncover fullness, identifying real treasure and discovering true joy and contentment in both their professional and personal lives.

His first book, Redefine Rich, is a journey of uncovering a deeper, more fulfilling life by shifting your perspective. It is available in both Kindle and paperback on Amazon: here

You can order a limited hardback version of the book at

To contact Matt or inquire about his speaking schedule, visit

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