Don’t die with the music still in you

I have a confession.

Each day I write down on average 23 tasks in my to-do list.

But there’s something unique about three of them.

You see, I write them down with the earnest intent of getting them done.

But here’s the rub. They’re actually already done.

Yup, I write tasks down tasks just so I can mark them as complete.

Why? An optimist would say that it’s a tactic to build “momentum.”

A pessimist: It’s the dopamine. It just feels so dang good.

Now I know I’m not the only one that uses this silly (and ineffective) trick.

When Walter Chen (a long-time RadReader) and Rodrigo Guzman created the task manager I Done This in 2011, they were able to identify some curious ways in which to-do lists are used.

In a story told by Wired Magazine’s Clive Thompson, when Chen and Guzman examined the app’s (anonymized) data, two peculiar statistics stood out:

First, 41% of tasks were never completed.

But even more surprising, was the case of the fake task:

Ten percent were done within a minute. It was almost like people were writing them down just so they had something to check off. A nice psychological boost, to be sure, but it somewhat defeated the purpose of a to-do list.

So to recap, 41% of tasks were never completed.

And 10% were totally made up.

That ain’t pretty.

Especially if you consider our collective obsession (yes, mine too) with productivity. You’d think we’d have a higher hit rate than 49%.

So when it comes to to-do lists, why do we continue thrash, flail and lie to ourselves?

I’ve got an uncomfortable answer:

“We don’t want to die with the music still in us.”


When people ask me for my top productivity book recommendation I always reply: Earnest Becker’s The Denial of Death.

On average, we’ve got 4,000 weeks on this planet. At 34 years old, blogger Tim Urban estimates that he’s got 15 more presidential elections to partake in. (Maybe that’s a good thing?)

Your to-do list, is just a proxy for this uncomfortable math.

It holds the promise of your potential.

The playbook for the best version of yourself.

The vessel that will let you make your own little dent on the universe.

I, most certainly, have my dreams and aspirations.

I want to be a great father, husband, son and brother.

I want to teach people how to live more examined and joyful lives.

And I want to be able to do sick cutbacks on 10 foot waves.

You see, I don’t want to die (with the music in me).

Here’s Earnest Becker on human beings’ quest to “outshine death and decay:”

β€œThe hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, and his products count. They earn this feeling by carving out a place in nature, by building an edifice that reflects human value: a temple, a cathedral, a totem pole, a sky scraper, a family that spans three generations.”


Is this scary?


Is it beautiful?


Forget the statistics.

A to-do list is an opening – an existential opening – to truly understand yourself, your deepest motivations and what truly matters.

It’s an opening to discover what makes your heart sing.

It’s an invitation to love others with an open heart.

It’s an invitation to find true sense of calm and equanimity.

It’s an invitation to jump on that rooftop with your violin, turn tables or microphone and belt out all of that beautiful music for the world to hear.


The first lecture of Supercharge Your Productivity comes with an unexpected plot twist.

We ask you to go deep and truly understand why you want to be more productive. We ask you to connect with that music deep within you. That music can be scary, joyous, uncomfortable.

But there’s no point in “becoming more productive” without understanding the underlying WHY behind that desire. Once you connect with the WHY, the HOW becomes effortless.

Our last cohort closes on Monday (10/25). Enroll in Supercharge Your Productivity today.

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