The Problem with To-Do Lists

To-do lists. They are pretty much ubiquitous. From the lowest level employee up to the CEO, just about everyone uses them. How effective they are is another question. Some business analysts have suggested variations on the to-do list, which they insist will make them more effective. These involve creating various kinds of sublists, which are categorized by urgency and importance. Others propose moving items around on the various lists depending on their status.
But other business analysts who have studied to-do lists in more detail have come to the conclusion that they really are not that effective. There are a number of drawbacks to them.
Drawbacks of Lists
One is that they simply give us too many choices, and that just increases our anxiety. We see explicitly what our opportunity costs are – what we could be doing but are not. And, the fact is that we really can only deal with at most seven choices at any one time before we become overwhelmed. We work much better when we have fewer choices.
Another problem with to-do lists is that we tend to focus first on the tasks that look to be quick and easy to get done, and putting off those tasks that are more difficult and time consuming. Or conversely, the list gives us little indication of how long any of the tasks will take. And you have no criterion to use in deciding which to do first. If you don’t take the time to prioritize your list, you also end up doing unimportant tasks before more important ones.
A Better Approach
Analysts critical of to-do lists recommend first looking at all of your tasks and making an estimate of how long you think it will take to do each of them. Then, move each task to your calendar. This will give you a clear indication of what task you need to do at what time, and it takes care of the problems mentioned above.
This also gives you a more accurate idea of how long it will take to do each task and whether you have that time. You will have to figure out if you can do a particular task, or even if it is important enough to do.
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