The to do list is perhaps the simplest of the work organization tools, and if used well it can be very effective. Unfortunately, due to its simplicity, it is often used without attention and risks creating more problems than it solves.
Let’s see what are the most common mistakes that transform a to do list from a tool into an obstacle.
The first problem is that often the list does not contain deadlines, we only make a list that is not very useful: deadlines are the fundamental element for managing priorities correctly and not putting off activities. Let’s face it, most of us tend to postpone what we don’t love, the lack of a deadline takes away the impetus for action.
The second aspect that can damage the to do list is its length. There are two negative effects: first of all, endless lists distract attention instead of helping us focus. Especially if you are not good at hierarchizing, you risk losing sight of important things, “scattered” in the midst of many activities.
In addition, they are demotivating: too many things to do mean an unrealistic plan, which leads to discouragement. By failing to complete the tasks day after day, we begin to accept this inability and worsen our tendency to procrastinate.
2 Things to avoid: mixing things and creating variations
The mix of activities also damages effectiveness: we cannot put in the same list actions that require 3 minutes to be carried out and projects that instead need weeks of work.
In the same way, activities belonging to different projects, which have no connection to each other and cause jumps in context to be carried out in series, should not end up in the same list.There is also the risk due to what the psychologist Barry Schwartz has defined the “paradox of choice”.
The more options we have, the less we are able to decide between them and the more anxiety we feel accordingly. A second consequence of having too much variability in the activity lists is that you spend more time doing things: when you are paralyzed by indecision you waste precious time. This damages your productivity.
This is called decision fatigue. It is a state where you are less able to make good decisions because you are mentally exhausted from making decisions during the day. In other words, your cognitive resources have been exhausted.
This phenomenon is important to understand because it has a disastrous effect on our ability to decide how to allocate our time among competing options. We become less rational, less focused and less able to control our impulses.
As a result, we are more likely to choose activities that offer immediate gratification than those that are probably better for us, but require more effort.
The function of purpose
Another great danger for the to do list is the lack of definition of the purpose: activities without a specific purpose are psychologically difficult to take charge.
The lack of definition creates the same type of problem: you cannot have a “create a website” task. Behind this sentence are dozens of things that you need to do to complete the activity. It is a project disguised as an activity. Attention also to the context of the individual activities.
If there is no appropriate information, how will you be able to estimate the value, the urgency of the activities, how long will it take to carry them out, and finally choose and execute?
The basic rule of the list that works
In addition to not making these mistakes, in order to have a really efficient tool it is important to add the start date in addition to the due date of the task.
This information allows you to focus on a limited number of activities among the many that need to be completed: those that must be started today, not in the future. The start date depends on different considerations: having certain information available, for example, but also the amount of time it takes to complete it.
This will also help to estimate the activity from the point of view of the commitment necessary to carry it out.