This would be awesome, right? Freedom from that layer of post-its taped all around your monitor. Deleting all those to-do apps cluttering up your smart phone. And no more guilt over delayed and unfinished tasks that linger on your lists forever.
Yet while it’s sexy to trash talk to-do lists, it’s time to come back to reality and remember why to-do lists do matter.
To-do Lists aren’t a Substitute for Process
Jeff Atwood says this, when referring to the to-do lists in his life:
As for the things that didn’t matter in my life, well, those just tended to pile up endlessly in the old to-do list. And the collective psychic weight of all these minor undone tasks were caught up in my ever-growing to-do katamari ball, where they continually weighed on me, day after day.
Ouch. That sounds rough!
If that’s happening though then the problem isn’t the to-do list. Remember, to-do lists can’t replace process, can’t exist without a process, and can’t add more “stuff” to your process.
So what is the process? Well, it’s simple:
- Prioritize – Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix is one way
- Divide & Conquer – Break up projects into small, manageable tasks
- Update & Purge – Constantly prune your to-do list; if a task has been sitting overdue for weeks, get rid of it. It’s clearly not that important!
The point is, just because to-dos are piling up on your list doesn’t mean the list is the problem.
Quitting Doesn’t Get your To-Dos Done
Same principle here. Instead of quitting to-do lists altogether, there’s a better solution. What if we just had awesome to-do lists instead? (Ok I know that last sentence is a bit ambitious, but bear with me.)
Again, here’s Jeff:
If it matters, if it really matters, you’ll remember to do it. And if you don’t, well, maybe you’ll get to it one of these days. Or not. And that’s cool too.
All right here’s the deal: Jeff’s right that if you can’t remember the three most important things you need to do today, then there’s a serious problem. What he’s forgetting, though, is that there is so much more to your day, and that’s what to-do lists are for.
The easiest way to explain this is by walking through what belongs on a to-do list.
The bread & butter for to-do lists. Assignments, action items, basically anything that you gotta do for someone else.
There’s a key difference with these. With an action item, you really don’t get to determine whether it’s important or not (at least after it’s been agreed upon by everyone).
So even if you don’t think it’s important – actually, especially if you don’t think it’s important! – a to-do list for action items is a must. To-do lists keep action items on your radar even when they’re not on your mind.
By the way, looking for a great action item tool? One that integrates seamlessly with your status meetings and syncs with tools like Google Tasks and Outlook? Check out Less Meeting.
I have all of these things to get done everyday. Will I remember to take out the trash? Probably. Will I remember to pick up the dry cleaning? Possibly. But do I want an earful from my spouse when I forget to pickup groceries for dinner tonight? Heck No!!
3. Your Important Projects & Goals
As Vivek Haldar puts it,
If you really deeply care about something, you will do it. You will do it without needing a list or a system or a reminder.
Use But Don’t Abuse To-Do Lists
Lifehacker’s Law: A new To-Do list app will be released every 24 hours.
— Lowell Heddings (@howtogeek) August 27, 2012
image via branimir