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Make Your To-Do List Work for You

Cropped shot of a person of color checking off boxes on a handwritten to-do list

How can you make enough time for your to-do list?

There's an old saying: When you're hunting elephants, don't get distracted chasing rabbits. Apply strategic thinking to your to-do list: Separate elephants (tasks that require deeper thinking and also build toward long-term goals) from rabbits (tasks may be urgent or important but do not require much thought). Then, focus on two elephants per day – just two – for 45 minutes each, during times when you do your best thinking.


Higher-order thinking releases dopamine – igniting the brain's reward network and feelings of accomplishment. While checking off mindless tasks (rabbits) can deliver a small dose of dopamine, challenging tasks (elephants) can offer a bigger feeling of reward, helping to motivate continued progress toward long-term goals.


  • Categorize your tasks as elephants or rabbits. Elephants are most critical to your success and require strategic, deeper-level thinking. Rabbits are busy work. They may be urgent, but they don't require higher-level thinking.
  • Dedicate the times when you do your best thinking to working on two elephants each day (45 minutes each).
  • Create an action plan, including breaking down really big elephants into actionable steps.
  • Journal about how daily accomplishments make you feel, or sharing with a friend.
This animated video shares some inspiration for tackling your elephants and keeping your rabbits in check.

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