Are there any other type-A personalities out there who read with disdain blog posts about eliminating the to-do list? Do you roll your eyes like I do when you read things like, “do less and you’ll get more done.” Or, “just choose the one most important thing to focus on for the day and don’t do anything else.”
The little voice inside my head always screams,
“Yeah, right! I don’t know what planet you’re living on, but my planet sure doesn’t function that way.”
But then again, my to-do list is an ever-growing monster. It seems like every time I cross one thing off, two new things get added. Now if that isn’t the epitome of counter-productive, I don’t know what is.
The to-do list is one of the most overwhelming, self-imposed guilt trips there is. So why do we do it to ourselves? Because, of course, we are a bunch of overachievers who live in a culture that tells us that the more we do, the more valued and successful we will be.
Lately I’ve been attempting to embrace a new mantra: Reject the status quo.
When the status quo tells me to book up my calendar, add things to my to-do list, and run around like a mad woman, I stop and give my head a shake. It boils down to just being tired of feeling like I’m not accomplishing enough with my time. Yes, the “status quo thing” does have something to do with it, but self-flagellation really isn’t sustainable.
I also realized that if I really stop and think about it, most of the things I put on my to-do list aren’t the most important things I should be focusing on. Instead, they distract me from those important things. It’s like a false feeling of importance; staying busy makes us feel important, even if we aren’t doing anything that truly matters.
So last week, I decided to try an experiment — just for one week, to see how I would do with a 2-item daily quota. Here’s a rough outline of my process:
First, I took stock of the things I needed to accomplish for the week:
- Project A, with client phone call on Tuesday
- Project B, due Monday
- Project C, due Friday
- Project D, weekly on Wednesday
- Plus one morning of helping a friend pack for a move
Then, I evaluated each item and pre-determined deadlines and allocated 2 items per each day of the week:
- Project A
- Project B
- Help friend pack
- Project A client phone call
- Project D
- Continue work on Project A (new deadline for Monday)
- Project C
- Project A
- Finish and deliver Project C
- Project A
By the end of the day Monday, I felt incredibly accomplished. I had to wait for some information from my client before I could begin work on Project A, so I was at my computer and writing by 9 am, worked on Project B and didn’t check my email until after lunch. When I checked my email, I had the information I needed for Project A, which I worked on and finished before 3 pm. When all was said and done, I had accomplished my 2-item quota, plus some.
Now, being a pragmatist, I wouldn’t be doing you much service if I told you that every day went just like Monday. The rest of the week got off course right around Thursday (as a result of Wednesday night’s insomnia), but the beauty of this system is that I bumped the Thursday items to Friday, delivered Project C on Saturday, and still met Project A deadline the following Monday.
So while I haven’t exactly done away with my to-do list entirely, I’m at least sticking with the pared-down system for week 2. It looks like this system is going to be the way to go for me in terms of taming that monster list of things that I need to get done.