“To Do” Lists Don’t Do It
I coach a lot of people who are bright, high energy, and successful, but who aren’t operating at anywhere near peak performance because they manage their time inefficiently. I’ve come to realize that the more they try to organize, the less organized they are.
The primary culprit is the “to do” list (TDL). They faithfully record what needs to be done tomorrow, the day after, next week, ad infinitum, a constantly growing serpent that reaches vast, entangled proportions.
When everything is a priority, of course, NOTHING is a priority. Worse, listing things becomes an end in and of itself, as if some kind of action has been taken. If that were the case, writing your resume would result in a career.
Here’s the advice of someone whom time begs to give it a break—me. Do not make TDLs. Instead, plug anything you feel you must do—personal or professional—into your physical calendar (e.g., a Filofax). Give it a date and time, and treat is as sacrosanct, the equivalent of a client meeting, which you’d never blow-off just because you have something else on a list somewhere.
Never put more than six tasks on a day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon (unless you’d prefer to work hard when you’re fresh in the morning and take the afternoon off—feel free to match your life style). Don’t feel the need to complete a task in one time frame—”chunk” them. I don’t sit down to write a book chapter, I write a quarter of a chapter at a time (one hour). If I have two dozen people to call for referral business, I’ll call four per day for six days. I’ll create a workshop in an hour one day, and spend a half-hour the next day arranging for the hotel and logistics.
It’s true that making lists and crossing off items as they’re completed provides a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. But your not at the local supermarket buying cheese, you’re trying to grow your business and attend to your life. That TDL will grow and remain a part of you, like a parasite, forever. But today will disappear before you know it.
Make better use of today.
© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.
Good point! I always tell people to work on their habits and routines to build greater efficiencies, not having endless list making. Also, I am a big fan of not-to-do lists. Quite simply a single list that you write once a year of all the things you are not going to do!! Very liberating!
That’s great advice.
Is that why most self-help books aren’t helpful: because people are unqualified to self-diagnose themselves and end up treating symptoms?
According to your TDL example, self diagnosis and treatment could worsen the condition!
Newest member of your “anti-TDL” club
Self-help books assume you’re damaged and must correct something. They try to superimpose the author’s remedy without diagnosing the cause of the reader’s symptoms.
What’s your read on David Allen/Getting Things Done approach to this. Or, put another way, where do you “park” the items that you’re not yet ready to schedule (which GTD encourages to get down in some system and out of your head)? (Isn’t that parking lot a kind of TDL?)
Why aren’t you ready to schedule them? You’re making a bad assumption at the outset.
Things I’m interested in doing but not yet committed to doing, or not in near future. (I’m not ready to schedule them but don’t want to forget them.) David Allen’s “someday” list.
“Not yet committed.” Forget it, toss them, it’s a waste of time. There’s nothing you can do NOW? Come on… David Allen’s “someday list” might be useful….someday.