To do lists are very common. Three out of five of us keep to do lists, even if we hate them, and many end up thinking that they would be lost without their lists. But would they?
Writing to do lists can feel quite virtuous. Here you are taking an inventory of your life, planning tasks and becoming more productive. The thing is they don’t make us more efficient or productive, as over 40% of tasks on to do lists never even get started. The main satisfaction they bring is from completing the task of writing the list itself, and the illusion of progress that brings.
In fact your to do list is quite probably making you indecisive, stressed, and miserable. Don’t believe me? Here’s 7 reasons why to do lists don’t work.
1. They’re unrealistic – Most to do lists are unrealistic. That’s because people don’t just put tasks on them. They put goals and aspirations on them too. They also include things that they don’t want to do but feel that they should be doing. The result is a mishmash of tasks, hopes, and imagined duties where the things that need to get done aren’t clear.
2. They’re too long – Most to do lists are far too long. This is partly the result of filling them with your goals and other peoples’ expectations. It’s also a result of the way our brains work. Once we start looking for and listing tasks then we start to think of more and more that needs to be done.
3. They’re a memory dump – People put things on their to do lists so that they don’t forget about them. This doesn’t just make the lists longer and longer. It also encourages us not to trust our memory, and to rely on lists more and more. The result is increasing long lists, and decreasing confidence in whether they include everything they should.
4. They’re different sized tasks – Let’s face it, “Post letter” and “Paint outside of house” are both tasks but they’re very different sizes. If we’re after the dopamine hit of crossing a task off (and you will be) then you’ll naturally do the smaller tasks first. If you’ve ever put a completed task on a list just so that you can cross it off you’ll know exactly what I mean.
5. They’re differing deadlines – Not only are tasks different sizes, they will have different deadlines too. Even if you are disciplined enough to write your to do lists in deadline order, you’ll still be tempted to complete small tasks ahead of schedule instead of something more urgent, but bigger. This is another way that lists can lead us astray.
6. There’s too much choice – The problem with big lists is there’s too much choice. Too much choice makes us indecisive. So now not only are you doing small tasks rather than urgent ones, you’re taking even more time to decide which small tasks to do next.
7. They’re demotivating – Those long-term aspirations that we talked about earlier will only remind you of the person you think you should be. The same can be said for other peoples’ expectations that have found their way onto your list. If this isn’t enough for you then add in not getting to the end of the list, and copying the same item over again and again. With the stress that comes from too much choice, and worries about your list’s completeness, the result is demotivation.
Finally convinced that to do lists aren’t helping you? Check out 7 ways to become more productive.
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