Nov 12, 2010

The Myth of To-do Lists

to-do list photo

We’re all familiar with creating to-do lists to increase our productivity. After all, they are simple and a great way to remember what you are about to do.
So why are to-do lists a myth, and how to make best use of them?

1.Write, Don’t Type
“When you write down your ideas, you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.” ~Michael LebÅ“uf
So why writing?
Simply because when you write you to-do list you can enjoy the feeling of physically crossing things off of your list; you can’t get the same satisfaction from clicking a box on a computer screen.

While this reason should be enough to make you write your to-do list, there is more…

It’s more effective to write things down on a physical list! Because:

1) When you write things down on your list, you store it, in a sense, in two ways: visually and kinesthetically (by using the muscles in your arm, hand, and fingers to write)

2) Reading and writing rewires your brain, especially cursive writing. I won’t go any further on this one because the topic is big and that’s not our subject.

The point is: don’t be fooled by those to-do lists sites like Remember the Milk or Google Calendar’s Task List because eventually it’ll become a real hassle for you to have to login, input, update and delete you tasks day-in and day-out.

2.Write on Both Sides of the Paper

I will assume in this part that you decided to write you to-do list on a piece of paper.

When writing your to-do list, it’s very easy to get enthusiastic and end up putting in too many items. And then when you look at that big list you feel drained and an urge to procrastinate may sweep over you.

So what should you do?
Write on both sides of the paper applying the 80/20 rule: put 20% of the tasks that, by completing them, gives 80% of the results on the front side of the list and 80% of the tasks that, by doing them, you get only 20% of the results on the back of the lists. These 80% tasks are normally “fake productivity” tasks. These tasks, like e-mail management or replying to requests on FB, give you a fake sense of productivity while all they do is stopping you from doing the important 20% tasks.

Now all you have to do is focusing on getting all the tasks on the front page done by the end of the day. And don’t worry about the tasks on the back, you can do them when you have more time like in the weekends but it’s even better if you didn’t do them at all.

Your to-do list determines your focus for the day, so it’s important you carefully select what you want to do for the day.

3.Plan Your To-do List the Night Before
“If you lost an hour in the morning, you’ll spend your whole day looking for it.” ~Irish Proverb
Most people plan their to-do list on the day itself, which isn’t effective as planning their list the day before. When you plan your list on the day itself, it’s reactive planning, since the day has already started. You’re already off on a late start. On the other hand, when you prepare it the night before, you can get off and running once you wake up.

How about you?

Have you ever spend so much time creating you to-do list that you didn’t have time to actually do anything on the list?
Please share in the comments.