Thanks to Marie Kondo and Netflix, 2019 has been the year of tidying up. Over the last six months, there's a decent chance you've looked at one of your belongings and asked yourself the question.

"Does it spark joy?"

I'm sure this exercise has been helpful for a lot of people, myself included. But I'm not here to tell you to throw away all your stuff. I'm here to help you find joy in an unlikely location: your to-do list.

With just two simple tweaks to your thought process, your daily agenda can go from being a source of stress to a source of pride.

Spark purpose

It's easy to feel daunted by a list of things that you have to do. To-do lists are often demotivating and anxiety-inducing. Why? Because the tasks on your list usually feel thrust upon you, and as a result, out of your control. 

Here's a mental trick that's helped me overcome my deep desire to say "screw you" to my to-do list: It's not about what you have to do, it's about what you get to do.

Saying or thinking "I have to" can induce strong negative emotions, while "I get to" attaches feelings of freedom, choice and opportunity.  Simply reframing your list from a "to-do" to a "get-to" helps your brain do a complete 180.

"I have to present our quarterly review to management." Yes, you get to do that presentation-- your boss trusts you with that responsibility and thinks you're the best person for the job.

"I have to pick up groceries later." Sure, but you also get to help provide for your family.

Don't get me wrong: There are some tasks that will never spark much joy at all-- like sending a rejection email to a job candidate, for instance. But by changing the premise from having to send that email, to getting to do it, it opens your mind, and you start to realize the more promising side of things.

You get to send that email because your business has attracted several talented candidates. And while it won't necessarily be good news for the recipient, you get to help them improve by sending along some feedback after their interview.

A simple choice of words doesn't only remove some of the sting, but also can attach a sense of purpose and meaning.

Identify meaning

Another hack that's helped me to revolutionize my productivity is what I call "inspired chunking." 

Chunking is the process of taking multiple items you need to work on and grouping them into one connected unit. It's a way to improve memory and is a great tool to use on its own-- it reduces switching costs for the brain.

Inspired chunking takes it one step further by assigning meaning to the tasks you've grouped together.

Here's an example. Right now, I have the following items on my "get-to" list:

  • Prepare all of my monthly check-ins for seven direct reports
  • Create a revised agenda for next week's sales meeting
  • Work with legal on options paperwork

Rather than consider them each as separate items to track in my mind, I connect them into one larger inspiring task that I'll call "Provide great leadership." 

By chunking and assigning meaning, what could once be viewed as an overwhelming list of to-dos becomes something I'm inspired and excited to take on. 

Do you want to be ready to take on the day, no matter what it has in store? With just a few small adjustments to your mindset, you'll come to realize that the individual items on your to-do list aren't burdens. They're gifts that are helping you become the person you want to be.