I’m always on the lookout for tools that can help me be more productive. Last year, I discovered and decided to try out Todoist, a to-do list app that caught my eye.

I started incorporating Todoist in my daily routine and soon started seeing results. I’ve always found it interesting how much of an impact it makes to write down my tasks. I wanted to find out more about why that is, so I did some research. This phenomenon appears to have been the subject of several studies of late. Hint: It’s neuroscience!

Dopamine is one of the most well-known neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that send information between neurons in our brains. It’s the primary neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s rewards system and feelings of pleasure. Checking items from a to-do list releases small amounts of Dopamine that then fuel us to keep checking off more items.

That brings me to the goals I set for myself last year. Like most people, I set goals for 2019 at the start of the year. I had been using Todoist religiously and I was killing it. However, when the end of the year approached, I realized that I had only completed a quarter of what I set out to.

This didn’t make sense to me, because I had been completing tasks left and right was generally pretty busy. Nevertheless, I still had a couple of months left of the year and it was crunch time!

By some magic, during these last couple of months, I managed to pull it together and I ended up achieving about 80% of what I had planned. However, it was far from ideal and I had to take a long hard look at where it all went wrong.

How did it all go wrong?

Todoist has a system called karma, where you get points for completing tasks and streaks for reaching certain milestones for consecutive days.

I had to be honest with myself. For the majority of the year, I had been filling my time with smaller, less important tasks to get my numbers up and to chase that aforementioned dopamine high. I often postponed larger, more difficult tasks because I felt like they were slowing me down when they were precisely what I was supposed to be spending my time on.

How can I stop this from happening again?

Here are three simple steps that I plan to follow now to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Maybe you can get some inspiration from it!

  1. I’ve stopped doing yearly goals. My largest goals for the year are quarterly goals. Now that the timeframe for my largest goals is a bit shorter, it helps me to keep sight of them.
  2. I’ve learned to review and reflect on my tasks more often. Have you ever created a to-do item just to tick it off immediately? This might be avoidable sometimes, but I’ve cut down on this drastically. Each morning I look at my tasks, I postpone what cannot get done and what’s left MUST be done that day.
  3. I’m making sure that my overall goals are a natural result of my smaller tasks. This way, completing the smallest, atomic tasks I have planned will help me achieve my overall goals, even if I don’t even think about it.

I hope that if you find yourself in a similar situation, these steps might inspire you. Have more tips that you’d like to share? Reach out to me on Twitter. Let’s help everyone become a little bit more productive today.