This is Why You Need a Commitment List

Forget Resolutions, To-do or To-done Lists. A commitment list is more than a to-do or a to-done list. It's a practical and mindful approach to achieving life goals as you complete mundane tasks.

At many points in my life, I’ve made resolutions and created to-do lists. I’m also quite certain you’ve done the same. In definition, a resolution is to be resolute or firm in doing something. And in theory, a to-do list helps you prioritize tasks that need to be, for a lack of a better word, done.

When I was writing my book, I had deadlines to meet but I also had a business to run and a life to live. It was a challenge managing time so I mastered creating to-do lists. I was using Evernote. The lists were helpful and I was getting things done. But since I had competing priorities, I found myself choosing to complete small tasks just to check things off.

It became more of a tool for distraction than a tool for completion.

Resolutions are meant to be firm desires to achieve a goal. The whole idea of the to-do list is to maximize the amount of stuff you can do within your limited time. Get them out of the way, so we can move onto the next thing on the list!

The big issue with to-do lists is how much easier it is to cross-off smaller tasks that have a very little impact on actual life goals. Do the dishes. Check. Do errands. Check. Do 20 pushups. Check. I must admit it feels good, but only temporarily, to cross things off a list.

It’s instant gratification. Similar to spending our money on likes today instead of saving it for a more loved purchase tomorrow.

You can spend your entire day “to do-ing” tasks. You can spend your money buying stuff. But what is it amounting to? What are you actually creating?

We fail in our resolutions because we’re resolute in the outcome but unsure of how that outcome will transform our lives. That uncertainty causes us to stop doing whatever it takes to reach our goals. Why continue working out, if we don’t know how our body will change? Why stick with a budget, if we don’t know how better we’ll feel?

The solution was then to create to-do lists. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of us struggle with to-do lists. It was eventually renamed as the to-done list–a psychological trick to work on to-dos, so they are…done.

We’re getting things done but are they the right things?

As your busy day ends and you begin to sink into your couch to decompress, you wonder if you’ll ever have time to do what really matters to you. With so many things on our lists, there seems to be no time left for anything other than, checking things off a list.

Eventually, we stop following the to-done lists too.

When I look back in my notebook from 2015-16, I can see pages of crossed-off to-dos and to-dones. Then, I noticed in December 2015 the majority of the days had the words: The BOOK!

It was in the month of December and that following January I made the biggest progress in completing my book manuscript.

So what happened? I knew my priority was to complete the book as it was a contractual commitment with my publisher, Wiley. When I think back during those crazy months while finishing the book, I still managed to exercise, eat, throw out the trash, do laundry, go to meetings, spend time with family, and run my business.

With a focus on to-do or to-done lists without a committed objective, there’s no long-term value for the effort you’ve placed in your actions. But we like to-do lists because they help us evaluate our days as being productive. However, productivity can get in the way of accomplishment.

Do you really want to look back at your notebook filled with days doing laundry, answering emails, going to doctor visits? Probably not.

You tweeted what, Nicole?

A few days ago, my friend Nicole tweeted, “Made myself a commitment list… of things I’ve been slacking on and need to turn around before I lose control of my life.”

The word commitment intrigued me. I replied with:

She responded, “Yes, because for such a long time I’ve told myself I would do something about my budget and weight and other things that I eventually never fixed due to laziness or whatever it was. But I made a list now of everything I can change that would help my budget too. Hoping this works.”

Let me explain the difference between resolutions and commitments. A resolution is a firm decision to do something and a commitment is a state of being dedicated to a cause. The former restricts you while the latter allows for growth.

Are you dedicated to the goal? Or are you dedicated to the transformation of your being after the goal is reached?

I looked back through my notebook and realized I had my own version of a commitment list. My notebook was filled with to-do tasks and to-done lists, but I actually had written down my resolutions as commitments.

  • In 2011, Resign my executive job. Done. I committed to freedom.
  • In 2012, Backpack through 20 countries. Done. I committed to exploration.
  • In 2013, Start and fund phroogal. Done. I committed to social entrepreneurship.
  • In 2014, Break the social taboo about money. Done. I committed to a 30-day road trip.
  • In 2015, Become a personal finance authority. Done. I committed to writing a book*.
  • In 2016, Impact lives in every state. Done. I committed to living on the road for 3 months.

*became a bestseller and reviewed in the New York Times.

So yes, a commitment list is another type of list. And that’s because lists can work.

The type of list you follow to live your life says a lot about your priorities. I’m sure your life is more than about menial tasks, errands, and chores.

What is a commitment list?

A commitment list is a transformative resolution. It’s a mindful approach to achieving important life goals as you complete mundane tasks. It’s not a list of tasks for you to do. These are commitments for you to achieve.

Commitments require focus and mindful activity to get results. It prioritizes your time. It allows you to take into account different aspects-that are competing for your time–and managing them simultaneously.

You’re still going to need to do the laundry. But, you’re going to look at that task holistically as it relates to your commitments. For example, I had moments where I thought about having to do laundry. It took more time thinking about doing laundry than it would have taken to wash the clothes the moment I noticed the pile.

With money, think about your need to do a budget. The hours needed to create your budget is most likely fewer than the amount of time used thinking about getting a budget done.

With my commitments, I realize my habits have changed. Instead of waiting on Saturday to do laundry, I do them when they need to be done. Instead of waiting to reply to that business email, I respond immediately. And rather than waiting to work out in the afternoons, I do my routine when I can.

It revolutionized how I live my life.

When you make a commitment to yourself about your health, wealth, and relationships, you’ll make conscious efforts to work on them.

I want you to think of the times you’ve accomplished something truly remarkable. Chances are you made a commitment to yourself. You committed to graduating college, committed to a relationship, or committed to living debt free. And because of those commitments, you prioritized your time.

How to start your own commitment list

Commitment lists are specific, flexible, and impactful. They have a short duration period too.

I’ve chosen my commitment list duration of about one-year. Sometimes it takes longer than a year so I’ll add another year to that commitment. I’ve learned that if no progress towards a commitment is made, then I must ask myself if the goal is still important to me. In a few instances, my goals have indeed changed and therefore I drop the commitment without guilt or shame.

Think about what you want to accomplish within a year. Things like committing to your final year in college, getting a better job, starting a business, losing 10 lbs, or saving $1000 in an emergency fund.

I want you to think of 3 categories you’d like to commit to such as a:

  • financial goal
  • life goal
  • creative goal

Write down one goal you’ll commit to for each of these categories. Keep in mind your commitment may be one, two, or all three categories. It’s your life. It’s your time. Therefore, it’s your choice.

I believe we accomplish goals because we’re committed to them. A commitment goes far beyond a goal. It’s a goal with a purpose. And purpose can drive us to achieve the impossible. You’ll realize that nothing trivial, including the un-done laundry, matters. You’ll find a way to honor your commitments, to do things, and get it done.

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Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is founder at phroogal, creator of the award-winning project the Road to Financial Wellness, and author of the bestseller and NY Times reviewed book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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