The Problem With To-Do Lists

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T-Do List
Here is the main problem with To-Do Lists: they are a potpourri of goals, projects, and tasks. They can be psychologically counterproductive as many items remain on the list at the end of the day. For example, here is an example of some items on a to-do list:

  • Lunch with Dave
  • Call Susan
  • Review the new contract
  • 10-Day Vacation
  • Learn Chinese

The first three items are tasks; however, the last two items, are a project (10-Day Vacation) and a goal (Learn Chinese). A great 10-day Vacation requires planning and prep work. Learning Chinese is a goal that requires daily actions (speaking, listening, and writing) in order to know the language well enough to speak and write fluently. Instead, these larger should be broken down into smaller tasks.

The 10-Day Vacation initial tasks might include deciding where to go, researching hotels, or purchasing plane tickets. The 2016 goal to learn Chinese would include registering for a course, locating a native speakers for weekly casual conversation, and planning a way to incorporate daily practice of the language into one’s life. As the saying goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

This is why I suggest using the following three lists in your planning: a goals list, a projects list, and a task list. They represent different timescales. The top tasks for each day should be driven by both you annual goals and your active projects; however, be ready for the arrival of maintenance, miscellaneous, and surprise tasks which will suddenly appear on the daily list too. Just make sure that the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ does not overwhelm those important tasks that will help you achieved.

Bottom Line: STOP writing out to-do lists. Instead, create daily tasks list.

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