Is Your To-Do List a Help or a Hindrance?


I recently read an article titled ‘Millionaires Don’t Use To-Do Lists’ and it got me thinking. I admit the likes of Richard Branson and Bill Gates probably don’t spend their time writing out a to-do list on a scrap of paper in the hope of getting things done, but then again they probably have a team of assistants who are essentially their walking, talking versions of to do lists.

The article stated that there are 3 big problems with to-do lists.

  1. A to-do list doesn’t account for time – When we have a long list of tasks, we tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly in a few minutes, leaving the longer items left undone
    My Thoughts: I don’t think a to-do list should have a specific finishing time on it, if you get to the end of the week and haven’t managed to complete everything, it really doesn’t matter, just carry over the tasks that still need doing to the next week.
  2. A to-do list doesn’t distinguish between urgent and important – Once again, our impulse is to fight the urgent and ignore the important
    My Thoughts: This is simply down to how you write your list. If there is something that is urgent or important I will prioritise these
  3. A to-do list contributes to stress – In what’s known in psychology as the Zeigarnik effect, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts. It’s no wonder we feel so overwhelmed in the day, but fight insomnia at night.
    My Thoughts: For me to-do lists are not about the things that you haven’t managed to get done, they are about what you have managed to achieve and what still needs to be achieved. Writing down the list of things you need to do isn’t going to add to your stress, if anything you’ll be able to relax a little more because you’re not trying to remember each of the tasks that you need to do.

I agree that these could be issues if you’re not getting your to do list writing technique right. So I’ve found some top tips on how to write an effective to-do list

  • Choose your platform – Whether it’s on a tablet, smartphone app, piece of paper or in your calendar, pick the platform that is most suited to you. Many find that physically writing a to-do list down helps to make it more memorable and “real”, whereas others feel that a digital copy is more convenient and easily updated.
  • Consistency – It is not going to happen overnight and sometimes you can forget to look at your list but ensure that you remain consistent to turn it into a productive work habit because it can help you to think laterally in the future when it comes to problem-solving and staying productive.
  • Be Realistic – You know how long you have in the day to dedicate to tasks so try to remember this while writing your list. Don’t include more than 8 items on the list because you are less likely to get it done and it can be more daunting the longer it is, be realistic about the amount of time and commitment you have so you don’t over stretch your list.
  • Add An Easy One – If you are feeling overworked or stressed then add a low-priority and easier task to your list, it will help you to avoid burnout, feel more accomplished by just crossing that easy thing off and will motivate you for the rest of the day so you don’t feel so swamped.
  • Put The Time In – It might seem counterintuitive to spend time, planning your time with a to-do list but simply spending 10-15 minutes at the end of each day can make a real difference. Not only does it make things clearer in your mind but it helps your focus, both at work and subconsciously meaning you are more likely to achieve your goals and list in the morning.
  • Be Specific – Writing “finish project” does not equate into what actually needs doing and the individual tasks that are required, this is a goal rather than a to-do list item and it isn’t an accurate representation of how much time it is going to take which means you will underestimate it. Being specific helps to problem solve, deal with tasks effectively and helps you to think things through in smaller, more manageable chunks which also helps to break up long-term projects, keeping you interested and motivated.
  • Send It To A Friend – Sending your to-do lists to a friend helps you to hold yourself accountable, particularly if the friend is a colleague or someone in your team as they are expecting you to get the work done and it motivates you to meet your targets.
  • Collaborate – Working in a team has its benefits and there is nothing to stop you using to-do lists to stay motivated and effective as a larger group.
  • Time Regular Tasks – If you have a daily task that you know you are going to be doing a lot of and always ends up on your list, time it. You will be able to tell whether you work better on it at different times of the day, for example when you are fresh first thing or straight after lunch. This helps to improve productivity and efficiency and will allow you to schedule it in for the optimum time, making your workload more enjoyable.

At the end of a long day at the office there is nothing more satisfying than crossing things of your to-do list. I constantly add to my list of things to do, but when every one of my tasks is ticked off, crossed out or scribbled over I feel a real sense of achievement.

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