Kill the Tasks Not the Todo List

I got the inspiration for this topic from Leo Babauta’s post the other day entitled “Kill your Todo list.”  Leo’s theme was about getting rid of your todo list and instead concentrating on just “one thing” that you wanted to get done that day.  Leo and I agree on many things when it comes to time management.  However, I wanted to present an alternate view on the todo list issue.  Why?  Because you need one.

The Blank Todo List

Perhaps, there are a few people who do not need a list, but I believe that most people are flying blind when it comes to their time management.  They go through their daily activities without a good overview of their obligations and simply jump from task-to-task without much thought or priority.

I used to work with a manager that started each day by resetting his todo list.  He would do this by tearing off the top sheet of paper from his yellow legal pad.  Sometimes he did it right in front of me.  I used to ask him, “What about the things that were on there that you didn’t finish?”  He would shrug.  He was not very effective.

Some argue that todo lists can take too much effort and are a burden in themselves.  I can agree with this point, but would counter that if your time management is taking too long, then you aren’t doing it right.

“Time management is supposed to make time, not take time.”

It is definitely possible to waste time making endless lists, defining “next actions,” and continuously prioritizing.  Instead, your todo list should be simple, keep you organized, and save you time.

5 Reasons You Need a Todo list

Here are some top reasons why you should keep a todo list:

  1. Allows You to Focus – Perhaps, one of the most basic premises of having a todo list is to let it track your obligations so that you can concentrate on doing.  It you are constantly trying to remember all the things that you have to do, you will not be able to dedicate your focus to the task at hand.  Your todo lists lets you forget about all the “other stuff” until you need to remember it.  When your todo list reminds you of something you had forgotten… that means it’s working.
  2. Visibility Leads to Productivity – Visibility to your tasks drives productivity.  This is why I encourage people to always have their todo list visible and in front of them.  You will be amazed how much more you get done simply because you are aware of it.  Those minutes previously wasted in between events or meetings can now be effectively used to take care of important items.
  3. Keeps You on Track – How do you keep from getting sidetracked on urgent but unimportant tasks that come up during your day?  By sticking to your todo list.  You list can help you stay on the path when other things are trying to divert you.  It can help prevent you from getting to the end of your day and discovering that you did a lot, but nothing that you needed to get done. Your list can be even more important during periods of low energy or motivation.  At the end of your day, when your energy is wiped and you are only thinking about going home, your list can guide you back.  You may quickly see some easy things to take care of before your day is done.
  4. Manages your Priorities -When you have a list of all the things you need to accomplish, it allows you to prioritize what is important.  If you are only seeing the task in front of you, it is difficult to know if it is more or less important than something else.  Your todo list lets you see the entire landscape.  It gives you the ability to put the important things first.
  5. Saves Time and Prevents Stress – A todo list, when used effectively, will prevent oversights and forgotten tasks that create more stress and effort.  Ever had a forgotten task that cost you more time or money?  A late bill or overdue report?  Let your todo list prevent Life Friction, and keep undone tasks from creating more work.

Use Your List

So, let’s keep that todo list.  It is one of the most powerful tools for “getting stuff done.”

Ensure that your list is simple and effective.  Your list should not take time, but rather save you time.

Let’s kill the tasks and keep the todo list.

What are your experiences and best practices with your todo list?

18 thoughts on “Kill the Tasks Not the Todo List

  1. Craig,

    Great post (as usual!) – I’m with you on all the reasons for saying yes to making a to-do list. Plus, it makes you better at follow-up, too.

    I think there are times when ignoring your to-do list and just going on “gut” to do what you know you need to do can be liberating, and can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

    But I think that’s where its weakness is, too – wanting to not feel overwhelmed can be addictive, and then the method of not making a to-do list can be used as an excuse to not have to think too hard.

    Time Management systems and prioritizing do take some effort and time – and depending on where your head is, and what’s going on in your life and work, at times it can take more effort than usual. So while we definitely want to keep systems as simple as possible, and concentrate on DOING, making a to-do list helps you evaluate and plan on a daily basis. It’s like a mini-anchoring system.

    The key is to not overload it, be realistic with what you set out to do for the day, keep it in front of you and check it throughout the day.

    Claudine

  2. Craig,

    Great post (as usual!) – I’m with you on all the reasons for saying yes to making a to-do list. Plus, it makes you better at follow-up, too.

    I think there are times when ignoring your to-do list and just going on “gut” to do what you know you need to do can be liberating, and can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

    But I think that’s where its weakness is, too – wanting to not feel overwhelmed can be addictive, and then the method of not making a to-do list can be used as an excuse to not have to think too hard.

    Time Management systems and prioritizing do take some effort and time – and depending on where your head is, and what’s going on in your life and work, at times it can take more effort than usual. So while we definitely want to keep systems as simple as possible, and concentrate on DOING, making a to-do list helps you evaluate and plan on a daily basis. It’s like a mini-anchoring system.

    The key is to not overload it, be realistic with what you set out to do for the day, keep it in front of you and check it throughout the day.

    Claudine

  3. To Do lists are good tools.

    So are Project lists, but what is the best way to get actions from the Project list to the To Do list?

    I am thinking of GTD that a project is made up of a bunch of single tasks or actions, but how do you keep everything organized?

  4. To Do lists are good tools.

    So are Project lists, but what is the best way to get actions from the Project list to the To Do list?

    I am thinking of GTD that a project is made up of a bunch of single tasks or actions, but how do you keep everything organized?

  5. I love the program Things for managing my tasks, but am reflecting more about using “date due”- if I get behind, I find my list flooded with items that overwhelm my inbox. I think a task-manager/to-do list needs upkeep and attention so you can differentiate between the urgent-but-not-important and important-but-not-urgent tasks. I’m working now on a better morning review of my projects to consider my work for the day and being much choosier about what tasks have due dates.

  6. I love the program Things for managing my tasks, but am reflecting more about using “date due”- if I get behind, I find my list flooded with items that overwhelm my inbox. I think a task-manager/to-do list needs upkeep and attention so you can differentiate between the urgent-but-not-important and important-but-not-urgent tasks. I’m working now on a better morning review of my projects to consider my work for the day and being much choosier about what tasks have due dates.

  7. Good post; great site; already learning a lot.

    However, please go through and delete all the duplicates in the comment section here. Every one of them was a repeat–and that wastes the readers’ time! 🙂

  8. Good post; great site; already learning a lot.

    However, please go through and delete all the duplicates in the comment section here. Every one of them was a repeat–and that wastes the readers’ time! 🙂

  9. I use lists for one key reason – to get stuff out of my head!
    It’s hard to focus on a task completely or let myself be creative if I am busy
    trying to remember 10 other things at the same time.

    There is also a satisfaction component to a todo list – it’s a
    great feeling to cross something off that list! When I was a new mum I
    sometimes found a detailed todo list (eg wash clothes, hang out clothes, bring
    in clothes) was a good way to keep my morale up as I could see I HAD achieved
    stuff during the day 🙂

  10. I agree having my to do list keeps me focused…ESPECIALLY if I keep it where it is visible at all times. Without it I am EASILY distracted by all those urgent but not important tasks that seem to intrude upon my day.

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