Why To-Do lists often become To-Don’t lists…

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The reason most people fail with their to-do lists is because what they actually create is an ‘everything list’.

Like sunrise follows sunset, there are some things in life that are practically certain. Take, for example, that frequently shared life-lesson that someone, somewhere along the line will have definitely said to you: that if you want to get better at time management and productivity, you’ve got to do a ‘To-Do’ list.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Far be it from me to spoil the party (I’m just as certain some of you might know about a famous psychology study that found people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals if they write them down), but hear me out. The point of a to-do list is to divide your day in such a way that you are in control of it. That is its purpose. I don’t actually have a problem with to-do lists – it’s just the way people do them. For it’s my belief that not only do 99.9% of people fail to do them properly, in doing so they actually discourage themselves from ever utilising their time more effectively – which is the very reason they wanted to do them in the first place.

So why is this? Well, what happened last time you wrote your own to-do list? Did it turn into an impossibly long, never to be completed document where tasks got pushed to the next day, and then the next day, like a continually leaping frog? How did this list make you feel? Defeated? Arguably. Reminded of just how much you have still to get done? Probably. The fact is, people don’t like seeing their own disorganisation, and most of the time to-do lists are evidence of just this - labels of failure. They might have initially felt satisfying to create, but now they resemble receipts of under-performance.

However, it needn’t be like this. The reason most people fail with their to-do lists is because what they actually create is an ‘everything list’. Make your To-do list a ‘To-day list’ – things you should aim to get done that day [we believe this so much we’ve actually just trademarked the phrase].

Linked to this though is perhaps the single-biggest reason to-do lists lose favour – tasks are almost never assigned with a predicted time-to-take. It sounds simple, but it rarely happens. A To-Day list should really be incorporated into a daily schedule. That's where they make most sense to be, because tasks take time.

But there are other things people forget too. What about interruptions that give rise to new and unexpected tasks? While they may not be things we actually ‘want’ to achieve on that specific day [scientists say we are interrupted by something on average every three to eight minutes], we all suffer them.

What I hope is becoming clear is that we need to challenge ‘to-do’ lists. It’s only via a new way of thinking, that people can prioritise and make realistic judgements about what they can achieve with the available time in their day.

None of this is rocket-science. It’s simple stuff. But sometimes simple isn’t obvious. Time management is a skill that needs to be practiced, but take these few simple tips onboard, and you really will change the way you work. My advice is this: Turn to-do lists into to-day lists, to make the ‘do’ really become ‘done’.