Why your to-do list doesn’t work

How’s your to-do list? If like me you find to-do lists ineffective in getting things done, this video for you.

To-do lists: love or loathe them? It has been found to be helpful in getting things done. Here’s my experience with creating to-do lists. Tell me if you have a similar experience.

I make one, which means piling on as many tasks as I can. The list gets too long that I start getting frustrated. So I end up ignoring list, not wanting to be reminded of the things I need to do but don’t want to, or of the non-urgent things that still need to get done but can afford to wait.

And here’s why that list doesn’t help me at all: The longer I stare at the consistent reminder of what you have not done, the more I get desensitized. It doesn’t give me any sense of urgency—it only furthers my frustration and stress.

What do I end up doing? Creating a to-do list for a new to-do list—one that is hopefully less frustrating and one that I can actually accomplish.

Let me say, though, that creating a to-do list is not a bad thing. There’s a reason why it’s considered a productivity tool. The problem with this particular to-do list that I and most people tend to do is that it lacks urgency. It also doesn’t take into consideration how much time it takes to accomplish each item on the list.

What can we do instead? The problem might not be on the list itself, but on how we plan out our lists. To make it work, we’ll need to do more than pile on our to-do list. If we want to be more productive with your to-do list, here’s what we should do instead:

1. Add a deadline next to the item on your to-do list. Or better yet, calendar it.

The lack of urgency reduces the efficiency of to-do lists. However, adding a deadline creates that sense of urgency that compels us to action. And if tasks don’t get ticked off, they get put off for another time. And then more urgent things enter the list until they sit perpetually on the list.

If it needs to get done, you put a deadline on it. And if it’s an important task, don’t just put it on your to-do list—put it on your calendar. You’re more likely to finish a task if you make time for it.

2. Allot enough time for each important task.

Here’s another problem with our to-do lists: it doesn’t normally say how much time it takes to finish a task. Not all tasks are create equal. Sending a reply email takes less time than creating a report or a pitch deck.

So when you put something in your to-do list, even better if it’s in your calendar, make sure you have enough time to accomplish the task. For example, if you’re making a report or a pitch deck, think about all of the important steps you need to take before you accomplish the entire task and then think about how much time you need for each subtask or step. Do you need to do some research or do you have enough information to create the report? If you do need research, how much time do you think you’ll need? How many documents do you need to go through to get enough information?

Once you’ve figured out how much time it takes to accomplish the entire task, make sure you add that into your calendar.

3. Make recurring tasks into a recurring event–until you can automate them.

If the task requires that you do it on a predictable frequency—such as taxes or quarterly reports, it’s best to turn them into a recurring event in your calendar. In this way, you don’t forget to do it, you’ve made the time to do it, and it’s one task off of your to-do list.

And if at some point, you learn that you can delegate it or automate it, do just that. Because automating it saves you both time, effort, and mental space.

In summary, what makes to-do lists inefficient and ineffective at times? They don’t give you a sense of urgency and neither do they indicate how much time it takes to accomplish each task. Instead, put them on a calendar as an event, allot enough time for each event—AKA your tasks, make recurring events if you need to them on a predictable frequency, and automate them as soon as you can.

There is still a place for to-do lists. It’s still a tool that helps you stay productive. But for important tasks, make sure that you complement your list with other tools in your arsenal to ensure that you accomplish them.



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