Have you ever found yourself feeling disappointed around the evening time for a lack of accomplishing your goals for the day?

I have. A lot actually.

Are you getting "setting goals" and "making to-do lists" mixed up? If so, it could be the source of your lack of productivity and motivation to accomplish things. Check out this article to see if you're getting the two confused and find out why it matters. #compassmylife #goals #productivity #intentionalliving

I used to make a whole list of all the things I needed/wanted to get done by the day’s end only to feel like a failure at accomplishing goals by the time the end of the day rolled around.

I’m pretty sure it’s a common feeling and maybe even one that you can relate to.

This used to be a daily occurrence for me until I discovered that there’s a difference between setting goals and making to-do lists… and knowing the difference between the two can be the thing that catapults you from self-degradation to goal slayer and productivity master!

Okay, so maybe that’s taking it a little far right off the bat, but below I’ve laid out the revelation I had that helped me go from frustrated and overwhelmed, to accomplishing tasks and feeling better about my productivity levels.

The Difference Between Setting Goals and Making To-Do Lists


First, there’s actually a huge difference between setting goals and making to-do lists or accomplishing tasks. Changing your mindset to differentiate between the two, is part of the battle to start with.

The reason differentiating the two is important is because there are different levels of each and different time frames to accomplish each. It’s going to take a lot longer to accomplish a major goal in life than it is to get a simple task of the day done.

If you give these two types of things the same name and therefore importance, it’s not a wonder that you won’t get either done and feel crappy about it.


There are a few kinds of goals but the main idea is that it is an overarching end result of something.

Said another way: it’s that thing that you define as the end result of something that has been accomplished.

There’s usually an exact defining moment that lets you know you have accomplished your goal.

For instance, graduating college is an end goal. Losing 30 pounds is an end goal. Paying off all your debt is an end goal.

You will know and can measure the accomplishment of these things.

Granted, there are different levels of goals:

  • Life Goals
  • End Goals
  • Mini-Goals

Life goals are the biggest picture type goals. Personally, it’s a life goal to travel the world. That’s a pretty big overarching type goal and I haven’t necessarily figured out every single exact location I want to go but it’s an ongoing thing I am working towards.

As part of that life goal, one of my end goals is to travel through Europe. 10 of the countries in Europe to be exact.

So my mini-goals to get to that end goal is to visit each of those 10 countries.

The graph below shows how it’s a progression:

If I just went with the idea that I want to travel the world, it may seem unlikely that I will ever completely accomplish it, but when I break it down into different kinds of goals, I see that I just have to start with visiting one single country.

It feels much less unreachable and much more potentially possible.

Your goals don’t have to be on such a large scale as my travel example.

It can be as simple as wanting to get all the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away for the week.

Quite the lofty end goal, I know, but you get the idea.

It doesn’t have to lead to some amazing life goal but the goal to get all of your laundry done can feel like a stressful and maybe even impossible or overwhelming one.

And when the day ends and you haven’t made a dent on the built-up pile of dirty laundry, you’re back to the feeling of disappointment.

Which are where to-do lists come in…


To-do lists are the tasks that need to get done in order to reach your overarching goal.

Similar to the way there are different kinds of goals, there are also different kinds of to-do lists:

  • Running to-do lists
  • Project-oriented to-do lists
  • Daily to-do lists

So if you’re end goal is to get all the laundry done for the week, then that’s a project you are taking on.

It may include a total of five loads of laundry (which is a slow week in my house), and to get it done, you only need to just do one load every weekday.

Running to-do lists are the lists week keep of all the random things that just always need to get done, at work or at home.

They are the things that have to get done but don’t necessarily have to get done today. However, tasks from your running list can get moved to your “today” list when they become more important to get done.


I want to reiterate this: a task on a to-do list is not a goal. It’s a task that needs to get done.

It’s important to understand because like I said before, it helps us realize that a different amount of importance gets given to different things.

If we don’t manage to get a simple task done today, we can just add it to our to-do list for tomorrow. However, when you call that task a goal, and you don’t get it done, you associate it with failing at your goals and that just isn’t true.

Likewise, when you think of a goal as something as simple as a task, you’re less like to put as much importance on it and therefore, less likely to get it done.

Here’s the thing, if you’re not a very organized person, all of this can sound a little overwhelming.

However, building out your goals and to-do lists like this, can really help you stay motivated, organized, and productive.

It also will help make things that seem unachievable, feel more doable.

For instance, with my travel example, the idea of traveling the whole world might feel overwhelming but when I break it all the way down like in the graph below, it starts to feel more realistic.

As you can see, we started out with the idea of traveling the world, which may seem unrealistic with all you have going on, but when we broke it down, all you have to do is save money and vacation time today.

It starts to feel a lot more doable and like something that you can act on.

When we call our daily to-do tasks “goals” and then don’t accomplish them by days end, it leaves us feeling like we can’t reach our goals. When in fact, we just simply didn’t get everything done today that we wanted.

Incorrect and over usage of the term goal is a big culprit in the self degradation of our life worth

Incorrect and overuse of the term “goal” is a big culprit in self-degradation of our life worth.

Learning to organize your plans correctly can help you to start actually accomplishing the things you want to and result in more productivity. Not to mention better self-esteem.


Hopefully, by now, you are starting to see the difference between setting goals and making a to-do list.

The sum of it is that a goal is what you want to achieve and the to-do list is the tasks you do to get there.

Breaking it all down is important for self-worth and for productivity.

If you’re someone who struggles to get all the things done that you want and it leaves you feeling crappy about yourself, just know that you are not alone!

So many people, including myself, do this. Tomorrow really is a new day and a new chance to get to make progress in something.

My current favorite quote is one that I someone posted in a Facebook group I’m in:

“A little change on a daily basis makes a tremendous transformation in the long run. If we could transform ourselves just 1% every day, after a few months, we would have transformed ourselves 100%!”

– Swami Ji

Author of this post:

Allison Sue

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclaimer for more info.

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I'm Allison Sue

Podcaster, Blogger, business woman, homesteader, accidental sheep mama, proud Navy veteran's wife, and East Asian Medical Doctor in the making. When I'm not online with you, you'll find me hanging with family, petting chickens, or watching Chinese shows on Netflix with my husband. Empowering others with tools to navigate to their most confident life is always on my mind. 

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