Why you should break up with your to-do-lists?

May 20, 2019

It’s Monday morning, the sun is shining and you’re feeling optimistic about the week. You’ve got a brand new piece of paper, your best pen and you start your to-do list. You are scribbling madly, it’s a long, long list then you notice an email comes in. It’s a customer query that needs your attention, then somebody cancels an appointment and you have to reschedule. The phone rings, you remember an invoice that is due today, and before you know it Monday is over.


As you start Tuesday, you get your list out and feel positive because while you have not really crossed anything off your list, you know what you need to do and are ready to get into it. Then you receive a new client request, the phone rings with a query, then the next distraction comes along. By the end of the day you may have finished one thing, maybe even two things before the day is over, but the list has not shrunk and you are starting to feel overwhelmed by all that you still have to do. And then in the blink of an eye, its Friday afternoon, the shine of the week has worn off and your optimism has absolutely depleted because you look at that long list and it has grown. You look back on the week and wonder where the time went.


Your to-do list is actually holding you back and you need to break up with it. To understand why you should break up with your to-do list, let’s look at it from the brain’s perspective.


To-do lists lack context and priority. It’s generally a dump of the things you need to do, regardless of importance and the time it will take to do it. It does not inform how you will actually get it done and tends to overwhelm us because now we have an extra thing to think about - working out how to tackle the list. I understand that writing it down makes you feel productive, it makes you feel like you have taken action, but actually you haven’t taken any action at all because you haven’t ticked anything off the list. A to-do list does not move you forward. The only thing that will move you forward is when you start tackling the things on the list.


Our brain's like certainty, we like to know what’s happening because then it can do its job of keeping us safe. The to-do list actually creates choice not focus. You get the list and you think which one should you tackle first: do you start from top to bottom, or bottom to top, in the middle or just do the things that you like? It actually creates more work for the brain because it has to think about how to work through the list efficiently.


The fundamental flaw about to-do lists is that they are unlimited and without boundaries. It assumes you have unlimited time to be able to get everything done and you can do as many tasks as you want. It doesn’t provide us any kind of framework for actually saying no or making the hard choices about what we should and should not do with the time we have. That’s why you need to break up with your to-do lists. Granted they help us because they gather information but writing the list without a plan for tackling it is counter productive.


Here's the good news, taking that to-do list and breaking up with it creates the space for you to embrace something that will simplify your life. Something that will enable you to make informed decisions on how you spend your time and actually move you forward. And what is that? It's scheduling and in my next blog I'm going to share how to live in your diary and get more done in the time you have.


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