The Humbling To-Do List

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Legend has it there once was a man somewhere in the mountains of Tibet who once finished his entire daily to-do list.

I’m skeptical.

A lot of us have this idealized vision of a productive life in which our time is perfectly balanced, we always finish our tasks, and we end the day satisfied with ourselves.

But that dream rarely comports with reality. And an unfinished to-do list is the most stinging reminder of how frequently we fall short of even our least ambitious goals.

Many articles have pointed to the futility of completing to-do lists to argue for abandoning the practice altogether (I’ve even shared some of those articles with you in my weekly newsletter). Why make lists if we don’t complete them? Won’t that just discourage us? Maybe it’s time to do away with the to-do list.

I disagree.

I still believe the daily to-do list is an important weapon in the battle for productivity. And, for believers, the fact that we don’t always finish our lists should be viewed as a feature, not a flaw.


Because an unfinished to-do list humbles us.

To-do lists are aspirational by nature. It’s a wish for everything I want to get done today. I hope I’ll finish it. But our days don’t always unfold according to plan. And that’s okay.

When that happens and the unticked box next to “do the laundry” mocks you, you have a choice. You can despair and beat yourself up, or you can remind yourself of the grace of God. The unfinished to-do list reminds us that we can’t do it all, and the gospel of grace reminds us that because of Christ, that’s okay.

God does not love us based on how perfectly productive we were today, but rather based on how perfect His Son and His sacrifice were. I can stand before God and men with confidence even in my daily failure to live up to my own standards because Christ has lived up to God’s standards on my behalf.

Join the discussion

  • I love this take on my “to-do” list. Allow it to humble me, not shame me. I will start practicing this today!

  • I love this concept. I think it would be great to have some inspiring Scriptures to go with it. I could print a little page of Scriptures and tuck it into my planner so I have a place to go at the end of the day when I have so much unfinished. I could then scribble a verse on the bottom of my list as I transfer half of it to the next few days. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

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