Stop Thinking In Tasks And To-Dos. Start Thinking In Outcomes

A very informative article I read today, here it is:

We all toil under a tyranny of to-dos. Life can feel like an endless succession of tedious tasks we struggle to complete, and we may cross everything off our to-do lists, but it can still feel like we aren’t achieving what we really want. It’s why we click on every productivity hack that pops up in our feed while half-read self-help books pile up on our nightstands.

I run a company dedicated to helping people get their tasks and to-dos done. If there’s one piece of advice I’ve learned that can make all the difference in how we approach work and productivity, it’s this: Stop thinking in terms of tasks and to-dos you need to complete — instead, think of the outcomes you want to achieve.

Tasks and to-dos may be the building blocks of work and productivity, but an outcome is more than a blueprint — it’s the most nutrient-rich version of a goal. An outcome is a goal that tells a story — to ourselves and others — about where we want to arrive. It builds on the proven power of visualization by encouraging us to envision an end state we can not only see but feel viscerally.

At my company, Hello Alfred, we combine technology and personal in-home assistance to help people manage grocery shopping, laundry, and dry cleaning service, and other weekly tasks and to-dos. But the outcome we strive to achieve for our clients is an end state we visualize: the moment they walk through the door at the end of a hectic day to find all their to-dos are done.

It may sound simple enough, but it’s a fundamentally different way of working and thinking about how to get things done. Ticking off tasks on our to-do lists might make us feel productive. But to truly be productive, we must clearly visualize the outcomes we want and design everything we do around getting them.

Write outcomes, not to-dos

That’s not to say you should trash your to-do list. To-do lists are a time-honored tool for getting things done. The problem isn’t that we write lists of the things we want to get done. It’s that we write down the to-dos we want to complete when we should be writing down the outcomes we want to achieve.

Consider your own experience. We all have days that feel “productive,” when we focused and were able to cross a lot of things off our list. And then the next day, we may feel unproductive and ask ourselves where the time went. This is what happens when we lose sight of the end state we want to reach: we lose the meaning and context for the actions we take to get there.

But when we have that clear image and deep understanding of our destination — and we write it down to keep it top of mind — we recognize that reflecting or recovering from a strenuous work sprint is equally valuable to any action on a to-do list.


Write it down.

After stating our desired outcome at the outset, we write it down. Whether it’s our overall company goal, a quarterly target, or even the result of a single meeting, we clearly articulate and record the end state we want to reach — for example, “to be one of the most trusted companies in the world” or “by the end of this quarter, X percent of our members will use our in-home service as a utility, like electricity” or “by the end of this meeting, we will agree on the single most important action to take on updating our product.” We write it down for reference and accountability. And when it’s an outcome we pursue over a long period of time, we restate it at the top of every weekly all-hands meeting to help all of us refresh the picture in our minds.

Act like an owner.

Acting like an owner means taking responsibility for our own productivity and how we spend our time. Outcome thinking demands the same ownership mindset, empowering each of us to imagine the end state and draw on our creativity to decide for ourselves how best to get there.

That mindset can transform any job — no matter how repetitive or tedious it may appear to be — into a challenge that requires creative solutions.

Empowering people to own their outcomes and find creative ways to achieve them opens up new possibilities that task-oriented thinking can foreclose. For example, a revenue manager might start with “hire a sales associate” as a goal, but thinking in outcomes can clarify the end state — say, “five signed contracts on my desk by the end of next quarter” — so that hiring becomes just one of several levers to be pulled.

Stick to the story.

Imagining an outcome as an end state that can be visualized and deeply felt is essentially an exercise in storytelling. Just as stories can imbue our daily lives with meaning, outcomes give narrative structure and momentum to the tasks and to-dos that make up a day’s work.

Our head of engineering encourages his team to use that narrative mindset to remind them that their develop-and-deploy process is more than just an endless series of “clearing tickets.”

Pursuing outcomes in life

Outcomes draw on the same narrative power that drives companies to put their mission statements on the office wall. When everyone shares a common outcome and visualizes the same end state, their work necessarily assumes a common purpose as each task ladders up to a shared mission.

In the end, changing our mindset from one driven by completing to-dos to one aligned by the outcomes we want to achieve is about more than a strategy for productivity at work. It can elevate even the most mundane things we do each day by instilling them with meaning, intention, and narrative power.

Try it. Start your morning imagining what you want to have accomplished by the end of the day, visualize where you’ll be, what that will feel like. Write it down. Now you’re ready to design your day around achieving a sense of productivity and completion far more gratifying than crossing to-dos off a list.

What do you do?

Tell in the comment section, or let’s talk! or INSTAGRAM 


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