Do you create general to-do lists to try and deal with all that is on your plate? Does your to-do list make you feel productive and fulfilled? Consider this: on the one hand, the to-do list seems like a great idea to manage a busy life. Experts however, tell us that they can actually be counter-productive and make us feel worse.
What? Feel worse? Well yes, if they aren’t done correctly. Correctly? Aren’t you thinking “don’t you just write down all that you plan on doing in a day and happily tick off or strike through these tasks when you complete them?” Don’t you just love the real sense of accomplishment that comes from ticking off those tasks? Ahhh, that is the theory. In practice however, it doesn’t always play out that way.
The problem with general to-do lists:
- The list is (ridiculously) long, often treated more like a ‘brain dump’. Lists tend to grow and growww and growwwwww. It has been described as “… a race to the bottom, except there is no bottom.”
- It is a mish mash of tasks and projects (for e.g, buy winter boots and plan winter vacation). Projects usually involve a number of tasks so the list becomes unrealistic and a set up for failure.
- There is no time frame or time allotment attached to each item on your list (pretty consequential because we are terrible at estimating how long it takes to complete a task!)
- To-do lists are not usually completed (when was the last time you crossed off everything on your to-do list?) and tasks are rolled onto the next list. There is no need to feel guilty or inadequate about this – an incredible 89 % of people don’t regularly finish their daily to-do lists. Welcome to the hamster wheel!
- Tasks often aren’t scheduled into your calendar. When not scheduled, they are less likely to be completed.
- Includes minor, low-effort tasks that are easily completed and have little impact.
When you spend time on these tasks, you may not end up with enough time or energy to tackle the higher effort, greater impact tasks.
- Tasks aren’t prioritized so what is most important may or may not be done (did someone say procrastination?)
We may be inadvertently creating a mental overload, adding stress, frustration and possibly anxiety to our lives. And that is why we created the list in the first place – to reduce stress and anxiety and feel more fulfilled and productive.
Moving from ‘to do’ to DONE: Do these 2 things
There is no need to completely abandon your list-making. You just need to make a couple of changes to make it more effective and fulfilling.
How do you prioritize? It is all about writing down and prioritizing the task which would have the greatest impact. How do you know which one will have the greatest impact? It is about pausing just long enough to decide what matters and allow this clear sense of priority to shape your day. Gary Keller puts it this way: “What’s the ONE thing I could do [right now], such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” According to the Hunter Method, it’s usually the thing you least want to do.
Another way to think about how to prioritize is to categorize tasks in terms of how important they are and how urgent they are. Using the Eisenhower Method, you prioritize tasks that are both urgent and important. These are tasks that demand immediate attention AND work towards longer term goals and missions.
2.Reduce the number of items on your list.
Our brains can handle only so many options before we become overwhelmed and paralyzed. We are more likely to act if there are fewer choices. Interesting fact – when companies began to reduce their product choices, their sales increased! Is there a magic number? Some advise us to choose one task or priority per day. Others have limit the number to 3 at one time.
So there you have it. Just make these 2 changes and you can turn your to-list into a DONE list. And we think you may agree… DONE feels good! It feels so good that at elizz we created a journal for busy family caregivers to help you get to ‘feeling good’. Our It.Is.Time. Journal will be available soon!
Do you think these (2) changes are do-able? Try them out and let us know the impact. We would love to hear about your experiences with to-do lists.