Stop Thinking In Tasks And To-Do. Start Thinking Goals And Outcomes

Posted on July 18, 2020

There’s no doubt that in this time and age, majority of us are bungled with the endless tyranny of to-do lists. Life can sometimes feel like a continuous spiral of demanding tasks we all struggle to complete, and hopelessly end up crossing everything off our to-dos, and it can still feel as though we aren’t reaching the goals we set. 

It’s no wonder that self-help books keep piling up on our nightstands and we anxiously click on any efficiency hack that pops up in our feeds. 

Over the years, I have helped countless people to get to-dos and tasks completed. And if there’s any useful piece of advice that has made all the difference on how successful people handle work and productivity it’s to: Stop thinking in terms of to-dos and tasks you need to finish—and instead focus on the goals and outcomes you want to achieve. 

If it's in your head - It's an Idea. When you write that idea down - It becomes a task. By setting a deadline to this, you are transforming the idea to a goal.

Darryn Van Hout

Tasks and to-dos are the major building blocks of any work and the desired productivity, however the outcome is more valuable than a blueprint—it’s actually the more nutrient-packed version of your goal(s). 

Ideally, an outcome is simply a goal that tells your story not just to others but also to yourself—and speaks clearly about where we desire to arrive. It’s established on the proven power of visualisation as it encourages us to imagine the end result that we not only perceive but also feel viscerally. 

Tech giant's Google Keep combines technology and personal in-home support to help people to manage obvious tasks like laundry, grocery shopping and dry cleaning services alongside other weekly to-dos and tasks. 

However, the outcome the company strives to attain for its clients is the end state they visualise: in that the moment their client walks through the door at the end of a chaotic day they find all their to-dos completed. 

While this may sound so simple, it’s an essentially different way of working and envisioning how to get your tasks and to-do lists done. Ticking off as done tasks on your to-do list definitely makes us feel productive. But to be truly productive, we must clearly think about the outcomes we want and design every little thing we have to do in order to achieve them.  

Note down the outcomes, not to-dos

That doesn’t mean you should shred all your to-do lists. In essence, your to-do lists are a timeless tool for helping you get things done. Mogul Richard Branson swears by it. Warren Buffet says he narrows his goals down into a manageable list of two and deletes everything else. Jamie Dimon jots down his to-dos on index cards and keeps them inside his pockets. Marc Andreessen says he jots down his to-dos in reverse, writing the things he gets done on an anti-to-do lists.

According to a 2017 LinkedIn Survey, 63% of professionals used daily to-do lists with 11% of these stating that they actually completed everything on the list. 

But then, the problem is not with the fact that we write to-do lists with tasks we want done. It’s with the fact that we write down the to-dos we want to accomplish when we should be noting down the outcomes we wish to achieve. 

This is the main difference with thinking outcome and not to-dos. Basically, outcomes are suggestive of to-dos and tasks but they help you get rid of the paradox of choice and pile-ups of to-do lists having no hierarchy or context. Through the practice of task-making and repetition, thinking outcome first can deliver greater productivity and a more fulfilling sense of achievement.

Think about your own experience. We all face days that feel so “productive” when we stay focused and cross several things from our to-do lists. Then another day felt unproductive and wondered where the time went. This is exactly what happens when we lose sight of the end result we are looking forward to achieving: we end up losing the true meaning and context of the actions we must take to get there. 

But when we have clearly envisioned and have a deeper understanding of our destination, and jot it down to keep it a priority on our mind, we will realise that recovering or reflecting on an exhausting work sprint is as valuable as any action taken towards accomplishing your to-do list.  

Pursuing outcomes at work

If thinking about outcomes and designing relevant actions around accomplishing them are imperative to personal productivity, then the ability to have a clear image of an outcome and sharing it widely is essential for collective productivity. 

The importance of goal clarity in an organisation’s efforts to achieve goals cannot be over emphasised. Thinking in terms of outcome can help an organisation to clarify and focus on its core mission by compelling it to clearly outline and communicate its goals—especially to those within the organisation. 

Another great platform, notes that outcome thinking not only defines the service that the company offers to its customers but also organises how the company works; from quarterly and annual planning to through leadership and initiative. What’s more, individuals can apply it to their respective roles whether they are executive assistants, engineers or even product marketers.

How to adopt goals and outcomes:

Write it down 

Once we state our desired outcome from the onset, we jot it down. Whether it’s the overall company goal, results of an important meeting or a monthly target, we articulate it clearly and record the end state we expect to achieve. For instance, “by the end of this month, X percent of our clients should be able to use our in-house service as a utility such as water” or “by the end of this meeting, we should have agreed on the most important action to take regarding the updating of our product.” We note it down for accountability and reference. And when it is an outcome that needs to be pursued over an extended period of time, we clearly restate it at the top of our monthly meetings to help everyone refresh the image in their minds. 

Act like an owner 

This simply means taking responsibility for our own productivity and how we use the time we have. Outcome thinking dictates you have the same mindset of ownership, empowering every team member to visualise the end state and pool our creativity to choose for ourselves the best way to get there.

Stick to the story 

Having a visual picture of an outcome as an end state in your mind and which can be deeply felt is very important in storytelling. Just the way stories imbue our day-to-day lives with meaning, outcomes add momentum and narrative structure to our to-dos and tasks that form our day’s work. 

For instance, a software development team can use a narrative mindset that reminds them that their design-develop and deploy process is more than a repetitive task of “clearing tickets”. The ability to envision end-users enjoying an intuitive app from the software development team or the thought of how a single update from the app will empower the operations team, crowns our developers’ tasks with more context and meaning.

Pursuing outcomes in life

Outcomes share a similar narrative power to that which drives businesses to hang their mission statements on their office walls. When there’s a common outcome and same end state that is shared and visualised by all, work generally assumes a common purpose as each task firsts up to one shared mission.

In the long run, altering our mindset from one driven by completion of to-do lists to one focused on outcomes we wish to achieve goes beyond a mere strategy for realising productivity at the workplace. This approach promotes even the most mundane things to be done daily by adding meaning, narrative power and intention to them.

Put it into practice. Start each morning envisioning what you want to accomplish by the end of the day, imagine where you will be and what that will feel like. Write it down. Now you’re set to design your day around accomplishing a sense of productivity and completing far more fulfilment than the mere crossing as done your to-dos.