Ditch the To Do List

When it comes to organization simpler is better. So recently I decided to cut out a step and ditch the “to do” list.

I’ll Schedule That “Later”

I’ve tried all kinds of organizational systems that require different equipment like apps, special notebooks, colored markers, and more. The accoutrements themselves aren’t the problem. The issue for me was that they all added an extra step or two between recording a task and actually doing it. My main problem was that I would write down an item and then hope for some ambiguous time called “later” to actually put those items into my schedule. What if instead of keeping a list of items to accomplish and then finding time to schedule them later, I just wrote them right into my calendar?

I am both late and new to this game. Lots of people have done this for a long time, but most of my learning happens through personal experience. One Sunday night, without any premeditation, I decided to plan my Monday by just scheduling tasks right into the standard calendar app on my smartphone. That Monday proved to be one of the busiest days I’ve had in weeks. But not only was I exceptionally productive, but I was done with my list by 6 p.m. I’m used to frantically working most evenings and then going to bed stressed about this blob of tasks I had to do the next day. But after my day of scheduling tasks right into my calendar I accomplished all that needed to be done and could sleep more peacefully.

Two Benefits of Ditching the To Do List

#1— Ditching the To Do list and scheduling tasks right into your calendar reduces the chances you’ll write something down and never get to it. I got really good at making lists. I’ve always been bad at getting through those lists in a timely, efficient manner. Now I find mental relief in the fact that the jobs I need to get done are an automatically planned part of my day.

#2–Another advantage of scheduling tasks directly into your calendar is getting less and more done. That’s right, you get both less and more done. You usually write down a lot more than you can get done in any single day. That’s what was causing much of my frustration. I had unreasonable expectations of how much of my To Do list I could plow through in a typical workday (evening working in the evening). But putting these items on my calendar gave me a better estimate of how much time I’d need to do something. Looking at a single day, it appeared that I was only doing two or three significant tasks per day. In reality, this is exactly how much I was getting done before, I just hadn’t noticed it. Getting less done in a day could discourage you, until you look at the pattern over several days.

As I continued to schedule items directly into my calendar I noticed that over time I got more done. First of all, the most important items–the ones that would keep me up at night–got done in a more timely manner. That’s because I made sure to schedule those tasks, allot plenty of time to them, and put them during the most productive parts of my day. Second, I found that fewer tasks, even routine ones like e-mailing, were forgotten. Putting something in my calendar made sure that I had time to do it, no matter how small the task. So, over just a few days, I accomplished much more than I had been getting done.

Ditch the To Do List

I encourage you to ditch the To Do list and schedule tasks directly into your calendar. Then see how you feel at the end of each day. Are you still stressed or do you find yourself more relaxed and able to do those activities that you never seemed to have time for? Do you miss the To Do list or is it just easier and more efficient to  use your calendar? Of course, this strategy may not work for you. But the good news is that there’s no “right” way to organize and execute. Whatever works for you is what works.

I’d love to hear more about your experience ditching the To Do list. Have you done it for a while? Is it new to you? What further advice would you give? 

One thought on “Ditch the To Do List

  1. Hi Jemar – great observations.

    They are completely backed up by the science of “implementation intentions” championed by Peter Gollwitzer of NYU and others. Also, managing a schedule is the perfect way (it seems) to deal with an increase in demands on your time… in other words, when your todo list grows to be too large and you find yourself reviewing too much stuff.

    I found making the switch to be tough and I share my struggle moving from one technique to another and back again a few times in my books. But at the end, it’s worth the effort, IMHO.

    Great article!

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