The to-do list has become one of the largest tools for increasing productivity. But are our to-do lists really helping as much as we think they are? To-do lists can help us set goals and create checks so we do not lose track of a task—or our lives, for that matter—but they often limit us to what we have personally designated as important.
Goal Setting: To-do lists haven’t become engrained in our society because they aren’t useful. No, in fact it’s quite the opposite. There are many different reasons why making a list, and crossing of the tasks that comprise it, can help us. At the core of creating a to-do list is the idea that you are setting goals for yourself on a regular basis. Goals are necessary to be able to outline what we want to accomplish. For those people who have a hard time keeping track of everything they have to achieve, to-do lists can allow them to put blinders on and begin working on they believe needs to be completed. Lists allow us to have a reason to set aside time at the beginning of our day to think about and visualize how our day is going to go. This can become a routine that provides stability to an otherwise unstable life.
Brain Happy Rush: The act of crossing off a task can actually cause a chemical reaction in our brains that makes us happier. When we acknowledge a task as complete, we give our brains the signal to go into a more relaxed mode, releasing the mood-stabilizer serotonin. When you create a to-do list you, are also preemptively creating a makeshift journal documenting what you accomplished. If you know what tasks you completed or potentially worked on it may be easier to know what more you need to complete to stay on schedule. When you limit the number of tasks on your list, you are able to completely focus on those tasks on your list, getting through your responsibilities one task, and one day, at a time. If you are interrupted, it may be easier to get back on task when you have an item to reference or go back to.
Scarcity of Time: Creating a to-do list could be a quick task or it could take scarce time away from actually completing another task. Often at the beginning of our day we have a general idea of what we need to accomplish to call the day a success. On occasion, writing a list of things that need to be done might not be necessary and may take time away from a more pressing task.
Lack of Flexibility: A to-do list also may not allow the flexibility some tasks might require. A to-do list gives you no concept as to what is most important or how long an item on the list might take. “Check the mail” and “clean the house” are likely on the same list but those items differ greatly in length, difficulty and importance. With only a list of items, you don’t get any idea of what item should be done first or even if that list is manageable in the time you have. With a list of options we may be tempted to do the easy tasks first to get a little boost of satisfaction, leaving the more difficult or intensive tasks at the tail-end of your day when the mid-afternoon fatigue has already set in. This can actually make you less likely to complete them. Typically the longer and more intensive tasks are the ones that could make the biggest impact in the long run, but if your to-do list isn’t structured to set you up to “swallow the frog,” you may be in trouble.
No allotment for daily happenings: Almost every to-do is list is too long, which causes us to have to make more decisions than necessary and the number decisions we make can derail our productivity. An eight-hour workday is filled with distractions and interruptions that takes up precious time. If you plan your to-do list off the assumption you will have a full eight hours of working time, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Leave at least an hour or two of your day free to manage any crisis that might arise or any interruptions that will inevitably happen.
Discouragement: At the end of the day you may have made great strides toward a project or in another area, but may not have completed anything on your to-do list and that can be discouraging. Making a day that should end with celebration feel as though you failed isn’t a very good motivator for future productivity.
Little room for creativity: If you are someone who lives by a to-do list, there is little room for creativity or tasks that could have a much greater impact overall. Many of our daily tasks hold much weight in the long-term but they tend to take up 80 percent of our time. The last 20 percent of our time is spent on tasks that will truly make a difference and those important tasks are hidden within our long list of duties. If we shed our to-do list mindset, we might be able to more clearly see those impactful tasks and execute them with the highest quality possible.
Answering the Riddle
Like most things in life, there is no one solution to whether we should use a to-do list or not; but there are things we can do to make ensure productivity happens. Take time at the start of each week and day to create goals for yourself. Create a flow chart, Web diagram or even a pie chart instead of a list to allow you to better visualize your day in a more meaningful way. Consider using a calendar to block out your day. GetAssist offers a free calendar that easily syncs with Google calendar and your social profile to help you get the most out of every day.
If you’re going to use a list, use it as a guide rather than a step-by-step process. Build some time into your day to make sure the tasks that will mean the most get the majority of your attention. And always remember that on any given day there will be interruptions and distractions so you can always factor in wiggle room. As long as you keep these suggestions in mind, you will find that you have accomplished the items that are the most critical for success.