Raise your hand if you wrote out (or typed into an app) a to-do list for the day.

It feels good, right?

Making the list helps you feel organized for the coming day, and it takes some of the pressure off your brain to have to remember everything.

And if you're like most people, you scan that list in the morning and pick some easy "wins"--an appointment you need to make or a quick email you need to send--so you can work your way into the day feeling positive about your progress.

It's understandable.

But it also doesn't work.

As a part of my practice, I study the performance patterns of extremely successful people--professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs--and help them improve their mental performance.

Almost to a person, they all have a daily strategy for accomplishing tasks and goals. A major league pitcher has a list of physical and mental workouts he wants to do and responsibilities with the media. A CEO has a mixture of short-term and long-term fires to put out, meetings to attend, and decisions to make.

And to a person, not one of them checks off everything on the list to accomplish in a given day.

That's right. Those high achievers almost never get everything done that they set out to do today.

What high achievers do is relentlessly accomplish the most important tasks every day. They consciously apply a "filter" to that to-do list and determine what needs attention first and foremost, and they check those things off the list. Every day.

And they do it ahead of time.

Instead of writing out your to-do list like a simple checklist, make a simple modification. Keep a "master" list for your week that includes everything you want to get done, but spend five minutes the day before preparing a second list for the coming day that includes your Top 3 and Big 1--and the time you'll have them accomplished.

The Top 3 are the three most important tasks you need to complete. The Big 1 is the most important conversation. Whatever else you accomplish in the day is great, but you get your win when you check those four things off the list.

It's something I do myself every day. Today, it was completing 60 minutes of writing time, making contact with two potential athletic clients and finishing an executive training proposal that needed to go out to a major technology company.

Adding this step does several things. It forces you to prioritize your tasks and your time. And it frees you from what I call the "to-do treadmill." Clients tell me all the time that they feel there's never enough time in the day to get everything done, and the stress of it is grinding them up.

The solution is simple.

You don't have to.

Focus on the priority tasks, then re-assess each afternoon as you build your list for the next day.

It's about persistence, not perfection.