Conquer your to-do list with the MAP hack

Use the MAP Hack to level up your motivation and productivity.

3-minute read

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


Have you ever struggled to complete items on your to-do list that feel important over the long-term but not urgent currently? 

Lists of non-urgent tasks used to nag at my conscience yet still not get done: the people to email back, the insurance claims to file, the presents to buy, the small bill here or there…  Then, one day, when calendaring out my time, I came up with a tool that draws on the science of meaning and motivation, as well as on my favorite hacks from our LifeLabs Productivity and Prioritization workshop, to save me (and hopefully you!) from this trap of procrastination.

And, thus, the MAP Hack was born.

The MAP Hack visually maps one’s tasks to Meaning And Purpose to increase intrinsic motivation for and, therefore, the likelihood of accomplishing tasks.  Research suggests that prioritizing tasks that align with one’s sense of meaning can lead to less negative emotions and more positive emotions, gratitude, life satisfaction, and happiness.  Sounds pretty good, right?

The MAP Hack helps fix a common but significant mistake: People rarely deliberately schedule time for personal priorities.  The possible consequences?  Burnout and decreased life satisfaction.  In contrast, the pursuit of goals that serve intrinsically motivating desires correlates with higher levels of subjective well-being.

Here’s how the MAP Hack works:

First, batch similar tasks into categories that connect to values, meaning, and/or behaviors that support well-being, such as practicing gratitude, spending time in nature, and connecting with others. Then, dedicate blocks of time on your calendar for each category and list specific tasks.

For example, list tasks like, “Call Alison, Text Brett, Email Cam” under “Build and Grow Meaningful Relationships,” instead of “Contact People” or some other less-inspiring headline. Then, block time to “Build and Grow Meaningful Relationships” on the calendar to serve as a visual marker for how your time connects to an intrinsic value or long-term priority.

Here’s how the MAP Hack can look on the calendar:

The MAP Hack connects you to a sense of meaning and well-being recurrently: when scheduling, when reviewing your calendar, and when engaging in the activity.  To increase its potency, take one minute to pause after completing the task and really feel the positive emotions, creating a neural pathway between action and feeling in your brain.  Not only will you feel better in the moment, you’ll deepen the intrinsic reward and be more inclined to do the activity next time.

Ultimately, the MAP Hack translates our values into action and helps us engage in our time meaningfully by reframing tasks and lists that may feel uneventful or laborious.  As we know from the fields of neuroscience, positive psychology, and cognitive psychology, reframes can help train our brains to experience positive emotions and mind states more automatically.