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I Lived for My To-Do List, But Here’s Why I Ditched It

Originally published by Lindsey Pollak 13 June 2017

Is there anything more satisfying than checking things off of a to-do list? I didn’t used to think so. But I recently decided to kill my to-do list obsession—and here’s why you might want to ditch yours, too.

A Love Affair with Lists

I’m not sure anyone loves a to-do list more than I do. I have bought special graph paper notebooks to make my lists even neater. I have bought countless apps that promised productivity nirvana. I’ve been known to put things on my to-do list just to check them off.

But here’s the thing—making a list and actually getting stuff done are two very different activities. Lately, as my life has gotten busier, I’ve had to admit that the tasks on my glorious to-do lists just weren’t being completed.

Attempting to solve this problem, I avidly read books and blogs on productivity and list-making (Never check email in the morning! Combine personal and professional tasks in one single list! Limit yourself to three daily to-dos!). But I just wasn’t checking off the items I really wanted to complete. And then I stumbled on a strategy that has been life-changing for me, and might be for you as well.

Goodbye, List, Hello…

Ready for the big reveal? Instead of putting tasks on a list, I started to schedule action items on my calendar. So, for example, instead of having “review Q1 profit and loss statement” or “take Zappos return to UPS” on a to-do list, I scheduled 30-minute blocks on my calendar to actually get those tasks done. All of a sudden, every task had a place and things were getting done. The strategy is so simple, I can’t even remember where I first learned about it.

(I should mention that I still use the classic tip from David Allen’s Getting Things Done that you should just do something right away that will take two minutes or less, rather than writing it down at all. I highly recommend it.)

Now, if I don’t do something at its allotted time, I have to reschedule another time to get it done. And if I move a task more than a few times, it’s a big hint to me that that particular activity may not be essential enough to do at all.

Calendaring tasks has been a total game changer for longer-term projects like a proposal for a new book I’m writing. I’ve been wanting to get the proposal completed for a while, but it never seemed to move up my to-do list when daily client tasks intervened. Even though I was so excited about the book (and can’t wait to tell you more!), I never seemed to find a window to devote to it, until I started scheduling blocks on my calendar. Now it’s almost complete.

I love to hear unconventional hacks from others, and that’s why I wanted to share this little tip with you.

Do you already use this method or would you consider trying it? What other productivity hacks are your favorites? Please share with all of us in the comments.


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