Why Are To Do Lists Counter-Productive And What To Do Instead?

What’s a “to do list?”

I believe it is obvious enough that a “to do list” is certainly a method of outlining all tasks you have to take care of over a certain period of time.

Any time people start creating to do lists, and arrange all the activities that need to be completed, they are more likely to delay them.

 

Why?

That’s because when you notice that you have a substantial amount of work in front of you, in order to finish a project or something that requires a sequence of steps to get it done, you are going to get overwhelmed by those activities. That’s especially true, if they are out of order and different from one another in that particular to do list.

What we do when we get overwhelmed? We procrastinate, postpone things for later, and not considering them first. If we do this, nothing gets done, and whatever is in the to do list gets neglected as a result.

Let me put it in this way..

If we put a bunch of stuff on a to do list, our brain cannot deal with everything at a time,  we “escape” in working on other unproductive activities, which waste more time and effort.

It is essential to understand that a “to do list” is just a tool that’s designed to plan out your responsibilities and activities, but this does not mean they are completed or finished.

Will power is required to eliminate tasks and activities out of the to do list.That’s the first step. If we want to have success with to do lists, we have to do each task at a time, until it is complete.

However, it is often difficult to estimate or choose which task should go first. That’s another reason why to do lists are not enough.

The underlying cause why “to do lists” don’t work is because it normally takes TIME to create them, and also, as I already mentioned, we typically put things off when we see large piles of work in front of us (that is precisely what a to do list stresses on) and practically nothing gets achieved, because of that temptation.

The greater the list of things to do, it conveys the message of “more work to handle” and therefore, in our mind this perception associated with having a lot of work is driving us to put things off.

 

What can you do about it?

Set a “not to do list” or a “not to do checklist!”

In this checklist, you’re going to take note of the actions you aren’t going to perform, because from previous experience, they didn’t benefit you in any way.

You have to take a moment and identify the things you should not be doing, based on previous mistakes, setbacks and losses.

A not to do list could be related to a specified period throughout the day.

Example: you may outline all activities you don’t have to do every morning.

An additional list can be developed where you put together all activities you do not have to do only at night.

This is especially effective if you know at which part of the day you perform at your best. If you perform well at your best in the morning you may want to outline the “not to do list” with all unproductive activities for that specified time.

Every time, you set that as a personal rule, and keep all promises to yourself, you’re going to be much more effective at your work. That’s because the “not to do list” is a commitment of postponing all unproductive activities.

Let me give you a specific example…

Let’s say, I work at my best in the morning. This is when I am creative, and there are usually lesser distractions at the time. Right before going to bed, I outline all the insignificant tasks within my project or things I don’t have to do in the morning. As I wake up I try to do only the important activities.

What’s in my not to do list?

On my “not to do lists” are: email checks, social networking, not drinking coffee in the morning, not smoking in the morning, not looking at specific web sites in the morning that may get me distracted from my business activities, and not going out shopping with family or friends in the morning.

Anytime, I take a note of those “ not to do activities,” I can now focus on what’s essential to me.

You should identify the activities that yield the highest ROI out of your time, along with all activities that keep you unproductive.

When you commit to yourself, and write them down on a sheet of paper all the things you should not do for  a particular time frame, you are going to have more control over your work habits or behaviors, and eventually get things done much quicker.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Parmelia

    Unbelievable how well-written and informative this was.

    • That’s very interesting. I personally was not aware of the “dark side” of to do lists, but I agree that they can lead to procrastination, because the bigger the to do lists, the more emotional burden builds up and we escape doing something else that NOT on the to do list. Thanks for bringing this up Chris!

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