How NOT to Use a To-Do List by Beverly Delidow

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In Women
Jan 16th, 2014
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Lots of people use “To-Do” lists as effective reminders of things they need to get done. They make a list, do the tasks, and check them off.  Not so hard, right? Here are a few ways, though, that the vaunted list becomes – errrrrr – rather less effective.

  1. It takes longer to make the list than it does to do any of the tasks it contains. If this is the case, you’re probably listing too many things and/or listing all of the steps of one task and that’s more than you need to remind you of WHAT to do. The protocol for doing the task belongs on a separate document. Rule of thumb: If lots of double digits are involved, you may have too much for one list.
  2. You create a list and leave it somewhere inaccessible. I’m very good at this. I have had to go back out after running errands because I made a beautiful list of all the places I needed to stop and what I needed to do in each place … but after being distracted in the hunt for my car keys (a whole other topic, I assure you), I left the list at home. Which invariably means I forgot something. Now I put the list WITH the car keys. And the cell phone. At least after twenty minutes of looking around the house I will have found all of them, and will not have the opportunity to lose one all over again, while continuing to search for the next item.
  3. You put “create to-do list” in the first slot. Need I say more? It’s OK to have some low-hanging fruit, but – duuuh! What goes on the list should be the things you really want and need to get done.
  4. You forget to prioritize. “Trim dog’s nails” does not have the same impact (and I hope “impact” was not involved!) as “get brakes replaced”. None of us has unlimited time. It’s OK to devote attention to the more important things first. Even if Buster is “clicking” on the tile floor.
  5. You let other people add to it. Oh no – don’t go there. Once you let someone else drive your tasks and priorities things can go overboard pretty quickly. And usually most of what goes overboard are the things YOU wanted to get done. Don’t go there. You’re a grown-up – you get to decide what’s on your to-do list.
  6. You use the list as a decorative item. I’ve done this – so I know lots of you have. You create the list, and lay it out conspicuously, where it is obvious how busy you are … and don’t do any of the to-do’s. I’m sorry – this is not the latest and greatest in home or office décor. This is a working list that had better quit staring in the mirror, get back into its overalls, and get to work!
  7. You have “magic jumping tasks”. That is, you keep moving one or more items to a new list after you have ~almost~ completed the old one. STOP! Time to figure out what it is about those tasks that makes them linger. Are they really yours? Do they really need to be done? Who could do them better? Time to reassess, and possibly re-gift, those assignments.
  8. You spend more time wondering how you’re going to get all that done. In fact, you spend more time wondering than you do on doing anything. A to-do list is a call to action – calls to contemplation are handled through the local monastery and most of us don’t work there. If you don’t have what you need to do a task – get information, get help, or give it to someone who has the tools – and give yourself permission to move on.
  9. You create the list and work diligently – on things that are not on it. Either your list did not contain the things you needed to get done, or you are not working on the things that have high priority for you. Either option requires some re-thinking. (OK – sometimes a to-do list may entail a call to contemplation.)
  10. You create a monster. You know what I mean – you create that list that looks like it came from Greek mythology (Giant Hydra – check! Stygian stables – check!) and then use it to beat yourself about the head when you cannot accomplish all of these tasks in half a day. Give yourself a break! A list is a reminder, not a sentence. Provide yourself with reasonable expectations and make sure to call on what help is available.

Feel better? Good. Now check off the first item on your list (Read interesting items in email) and get ready to tackle the rest – I’m rooting for you!

PS – just – every once in a while – when you finish a to-do list, do NOT immediately make a new one. Give yourself an hour or a day or even a week, if it’s vacation time, for some space between tasks to just be, breathe, and enjoy.

© Beverly Delidow. Beverly Delidow is a professor, writer, and photographer in West Virginia. She has published articles, fiction, poetry, and photographs in a number of forms.

And to help you with your productivity learn a simple system to finish your unfinished business. Experience the relief of confirming, carrying out, and completing your personal and professional commitments with the teleseminar Finish Your Unfinished Business, available for immediate download!

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