Never Write a To Do List

Posted on Aug 1, 2011

There’s nothing more satisfying than writing a To Do List and I agree that writing things down is a great way to plan.

However, before you write your next To Do List have a think about the process and consider trying a slightly different approach.

Generally a To Do List has the following items:

  • Items that are urgent and must be done
  • Items that are not as urgent but will take time and focus to do them
  • Items that arise during the day, that are easy to complete and take roughly 5 – 10 mins Items that are part of reoccurring tasks or specific projects
  • Items that are ideas about better ways to run your business

So how successful is your To Do List every day?
More than likely the new priorities which arise during the day, get in the way of a number of items. Or you start one item and find out you need to do something more before you can complete it. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, we tend to postpone things that aren’t urgent, take a bit of time and quite frankly aren’t that interesting. At the end of the day you’ll probably write another To Do List and optimistically plan to complete every item tomorrow (and I imagine also feel slightly guilty about not crossing off everything today).

So here’s an alternative approach to consider:
Urgent items will get done because they are urgent, they are probably keeping you awake at night, are top of your mind the next morning and more than likely someone else will be chasing you up – as a result there’s no need to record these.

For non urgent, more time consuming items book them in your diary. Make sure it’s at a time when you’re fresh, grab yourself a cuppa, turn off that phone (yes the world can survive without you for at least for half an hour) and power through them.

For items that are easy to complete (eg: returning an email to confirm a meeting or making a note on a client database) swap the couple of minutes it takes to write them down and do them instead . Understandably these items may arise whilst you’re in the middle of something and you’d probably prefer to write them down and come back to them later. However, as you’ve already been distracted from what you were doing consider doing them anyway.

For items that are part of reoccurring tasks or specific projects develop checklists for that task or project. Checklists save you time, develop consistency in your processes and also ensure that nothing is missed (which can happen if you write these items from memory on a To Do List).

For ideas about better ways to run your business record them as they come to mind, either in a “Ideas” notebook or use something like the notes app on the IPhone. Periodically I check my list, by which time some items are no longer relevant or I’ve magically completed them already without thinking. Allocating these items separately means no longer rewriting them every day on a new To Do List and cluttering up your day with tasks that are unlikely to be completed in the short term.

So consider saving yourself some extra minutes every day and avoid the To Do List. Remember your time is always better spent “doing” than “writing”!