Why To-Do Lists Fail and How the Blue Work/Red Work Balance Can Fix Them

Recognize the two kinds of work we need to do and help rebuild the trust in yourself needed to be more productive

Mike Sturm
Dec 13, 2020 · 6 min read

The Two Types of Work

In his bestselling book about leadership — *Turn This Ship Around — *David Marquet identifies two fundamental types of work, red work and blue work.

Doing Better Blue Work

Productivity starts and ends with blue work. You can do a million things on your to-do list (red work), but still feel like you’re going nowhere. You may be busy, but you’re not getting the right things done. That happens when you haven’t spent enough time doing quality blue work.

Rebuilding Trust in Yourself

The problem of self-trust boils down to a few key things:

  • no trust in practicality (i.e., I don’t believe I’ve really thought about how much time & energy all this will take — I’m expecting too much of myself today)
  • no trust in process analysis (i.e., I don’t believe that I’ve defined the process of what I need to do here) — we see this when we have lists like “Fix car” or “buy a present for Vijay”

Respect the Difference Between Blue and Red

Perhaps most importantly, you need to respect the division between the two types of work. Don’t mix blue work and red work. Don’t make yourself think about the work that you’ve put on your list to do.

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Mike Sturm

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

Mike Sturm

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

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