The Problem with todo lists

My first interaction with todo lists started when I was still in high school. All my teachers touted the idea of writing down our homework in a “homework diary”. As a millennial, the idea of writing stuff on paper wasn’t so attractive to me.
Instead, I used Wunderlist for my homework. It was in Wunderlist that I first felt the glorious feeling of adding all my tasks to a todo list.
This was great, I immediately felt more productive. Even though I wasn’t actually doing this stuff. having it in the todo list made me feel productive, and that is the problem I want to address today.

Why Todo lists are dangerous

Todo lists have this uncanny ability to lull you into this false sense of feeling productive. When you don’t complete the hundreds of tasks that you set for yourself – you feel demotivated. Here is a study on how todo lists make you feel anxious.
So What’s the alternative? The solution is creating good todo lists.

So how do you make good todo lists?

Time Blocking

I am not going to go into this with too much depth. I wrote an entire article in-depth article on Time Blocking here. To summarise that in-depth video and blog:

  1. Establish what you want to achieve on a weekly or daily basis.
  2. Block off slots of time on your calendar. Be very generous with time because humans suffer from Planning Fallacy. Planning Fallacy means that we suck at planning and estimating time.
  3. Adjust as the day goes on.

Better Todo lists

One thing you can do to make your todo lists more effective is to limit how many ‘todo’s’ or ‘tasks’ you put down for a given day. I use a system that I call my “3 MITs”: My 3 most important tasks. I put down the 3 tasks that I know that I have to get to that day. I limit it to 3 because I find that it’s the easiest to complete. You want to create some tasks that are easy to complete. I often finish these tasks by 10am – 12pm leaving me with a sense of being ‘on-top’ of my work rather than lagging behind. This leaves me with the entire afternoon to tackle anything else which feels like a bonus.

There is nothing wrong with having a todo list, I use them daily to keep track of what I need to complete in any given day. They are dangerous when not used correctly.

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