Planning your life and your days takes time and careful thought. One of the very popular ways to do this involves making and completing to do lists. But many people have trouble completing more than just a few items each day and find it frustrating. They ask themselves questions – like “what am I doing wrong?”, “how do I figure out what to do first?”, “who do I need to connect with who can help me?”. They may ask “when is the best time to start on each item?”, and perhaps even “where did I put that darn list?” But they don’t ask the most important question -“why?”

Now it is important to have all the necessary tools and information. It is important to gauge the varying levels of priorities. It is vital to know the prerequisites that provide support for each task and to identify the first steps and timelines for completion. But if you don’t have a firm grip on why you are doing these tasks you will lack motivation to tackle them.

Are they necessary to survival and smooth society functioning – like shopping for groceries, paying bills, or keeping a job? Have they been recommended by others to help you function and succeed? Are they things that you feel obligated to do? Or are they things that you really want to do? And do you have a clear idea of why you want to do them?

Many times we write stuff down with no intention of completion. We feel obligation but not desire. Like going to a gathering when we would rather just sit at home. Many people believe that exercise is needed for good health, but do everything to avoid it. Better nutrition is admirable but junk food is much easier and comfortable. Unless we have a good internal motivation we will falter on guilt trips.

So, along with the timeframe, priority, and first steps we need to identify a “why” for each tasks to add umph to our efforts and propel us to action. The way to do that is to identify your ‘why?” Why do you do the things you do in the way that you do them? The identification of an overall reason for your way of life can set the stage for identifying the why’s of your to do tasks.

For me that was begun way back in my first speech, my icebreaker, in Toastmasters nine years ago. In the icebreaker speech a member introduces themselves to the club and details how they want to be understood and viewed by the other members. “This is me” it says. For my speech I said there were three characteristics ,three words, that define me and describe what I do. Exploring, experimenting, and expressing.

I love to explore. Nature, history, cooking, everything is fair game for me. I take bunny trails, try new foods, read books on all sorts of subjects. It is who I am. I love to experiment. I was a chemistry major and had a little chemistry set as a kid. I would put things together just to see what happened. I started cooking and I did the same thing. Sometimes I would alter recipes, sometimes I would cook without a recipe, using the processes I had learned. And I love to express myself, in speech, in music, and in writing. It is who I am.

And then over the years I have used these realizations to come up with a “why” for what I do. I boiled it down to this: I want to inspire others to explore, experiment, and express their discoveries, their personalities, and their values, so that together we can make this world a better place. I realize that this is my motivation. I am not motivated by money, though it is important for keeping body and soul together. I am not motivated by power, though I enjoy being the freedom to direct and guide the progress of programs.

I am not motivated by what some people might see as success. In the Toastmaster world I have heard successful contest speakers talk about doing speeches over and over again, in front of differing audiences to practice and get feedback in order to advance. I have heard them talk about doing the same speech 50-100 times. And I while I can see that has helped them, it has no appeal for me. I have repeated speeches a few times, and enjoy the varied reactions of different audiences, but even 10-20 times over the same speech would be too much for me. The reward of a prize is not enough for me.

When I speak the reward I seek is the light in the eyes of the listener who gets the message, who says “now I understand’, “I never thought of it that way before”, or “you mean I’m not the only one who feels that way?”. I speak to motivate, to cause a ripple in the pond, to expand my influence, to help make this a better world. That is reward enough for me.

And taking that overall “why” into consideration I can apply that to my to do list and ask myself why each of the tasks are listed. That motivates me to do them because they fit into my why for life. And it can help me to eliminate items that don’t relate.

As Simon Sinek wrote in his book Start With Why people don’t buy things from a company because of what they make, or how they make them, but why they make the products they do. In the same way he says people will listen to us not because of what we say or do, or how we say or do, but of why we say and do the things we do.