Why To-Do Lists Are the Junk Food of Productivity

July 7, 2024 · 5 min read

Let’s get real. To-do lists are the productivity equivalent of eating donuts for breakfast – they feel good for about two minutes, then you crash. If you’re still clinging to your to-do list like a security blanket, it’s time for an intervention. Here’s why your beloved list is sabotaging you and what to do instead.

1. Too Many Choices

Imagine going to an ice cream shop with 100 flavors. You’ll spend an hour deciding and leave with plain vanilla. It’s called the paradox of choice. Your brain can’t handle more than seven options without short-circuiting. When you see your 58-item to-do list, you end up scrolling Twitter instead of working.

2. Short vs. Long Tasks

Your list is a mix of quick wins and epic quests. Guess which ones get done? Spoiler: it’s the two-minute tasks because crossing them off feels like winning the lottery. Meanwhile, proofreading that 135-page report? Not today, Satan.

3. Priority Confusion

Your list is a chaotic blend of urgent and trivial tasks. You’ll handle the high-priority ones, but those pesky low-priority items? They’ll haunt you until they explode into crises. Think of ignoring car maintenance until it breaks down on a deserted highway at 3 AM. Fun times.

4. Lack of Context

To-do lists don’t tell you how long tasks will take or how much time you have. It’s like trying to build Ikea furniture without instructions. Everything looks the same on paper, but in reality, they’re vastly different beasts.

5. No Commitment Devices

To-do lists don’t stop you from choosing easy tasks over important ones. You need something that forces you to stay on track, like internet-blocking software or a friend who’ll slap the phone out of your hand.

The Fix: Live in Your Calendar

Ditch the to-do list and move to your calendar. Estimate how long each task takes and schedule it. Leave space for emails and unexpected disasters. It’s like creating a game plan for your workday.

This method reduces choice overload, balances task complexity, and gives you a clear picture of your commitments. It’s a wake-up call to see if you can actually fit everything in. Spoiler: you can’t, but now you’ll know why.

Living in your calendar helps you decide whether to take on new projects. You’ll see when you realistically have time, and it’s easier to say no to unrealistic deadlines. If CFOs can say no to new buildings, you can say no to mid-February projects.

So, do yourself a favor: trash the to-do lists and start living in your calendar. Your productivity will thank you.

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