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Down with the To-do list!


the infamous to do list

Do you hate making a To-do list everyday? You’re not alone. The truth is there is only a small portion of the population who use To-do lists effectively, and it has more to do with personality than discipline.

In fact, for most people using a daily To-do list the tool does not make them more effective or save time. Granted, you may be less likely to forget something, but the very act of making the list can become a laborious task taking at least an extra half hour out your day. Then there’s the end of day leftover ‘To-do’s’ that you need to move over to the next day. They just never seem to go away or reduce in number, leaving you feeling deflated and with a sense of “I didn’t accomplish that much after all!”

The problem with To-do lists is that we spend our time listing even the menial tasks that we can accomplish quickly and are not likely to forget. The To-do list gives us a sense of security that backfires by making us feel anxious that if we do not list everything, we will forget something important. And so we do list everything, and that list is often overwhelming when laid out in black and white.

We then proceed to cross off the completed items as the day progresses. Being human beings, we are fond of instant gratification and we like to see that list decline, so unconsciously we complete the quicker and easier tasks first so that the list reduces in size. At the end of the day the big fat hairy tasks are still there, and we move them over to the next day hoping that tomorrow we will have more time and be more disciplined. And so, the list grows and grows until it causes us to want to run away, blaming ourselves or blaming time management as a waste of time.

If a To-do list is working for you, that’s great. Keep using it. If it is not, then stop chastising yourself believing you ‘need to do better’. We are all individuals, and what works for one, does not work for another. The Time Clinic has identified eight different facets of a person’s time persona, considering all these different variables, we need to have more options available to us and an understanding as to why our attempts at ‘being more organised’ are failing us.

You might be feeling a little frightened to relinquish such a seemingly popular and conventional time management tool. Fear not, let me set your mind at ease. Let’s quickly talk about how our minds’ work.

I am sure you have all encountered this scenario. You hear an annoying song on the radio, you know some of the words, but you really hate that song! You switch channels quickly. For the rest of the day you find yourself singing that song, trying to remember the rest and becoming more and more annoyed with yourself as the first two lines repeat over and over in your head. We call this irritating phenomenon an ‘ear-worm’, and it is important to understand how ‘ear-worms’ and time management are related.

Why do we suffer from ear-worms? It’s quite simple really, it’s because our unconscious minds have a need to complete things. In order to kill that ear-worm, all you need to do is sing the song in completion – even if you have to make up your own lines in order to do so. How are ear-worms and time management related? The To-do list assumes that we need to write everything down else we will forget. But the very mechanism I have just described should fill you with some reassurance; your unconscious mind is designed to nag at you until you have completed outstanding items. Can you remember everything? If it is that important or you have a fear that you will forget it, there’s no harm in sticking a post-it on your screen. But do you really need a To-do list? That’s up to you.

Sometimes the collective noise of all our ear-worms (musical and task related!) becomes overwhelming. That is the time I will write down a To-do list. I use it to get perspective on these occasions. I don’t let it take over my life. Trust me, you are more competent than you ever imagined possible.

I will talk about more time management techniques as we go along, the most important message here is a simple one. If it doesn’t work for you, discard it and find something that does. Embrace your individuality and trust yourself that a lot of solutions to your time management dilemmas are inside you, all you need to do is explore!