How Is Your “To Do” List Working For You?

By Dr. Jack Singer

To-do lists are magic. According to experts, the second you write something down, you’re infinitely more likely to actually make it happen than if you rely on your (sometimes faulty) memory. Some of the greatest thinkers – and achievers! – of our time have been inveterate list-makers, including:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Leonardo Davinci
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Martha Stewart

Lists work. Books have been written about the power of lists… but not all lists are created equal! In this short series, I’m going to discuss the six biggest mistakes you’re making with your to-do list, and how to avoid them. You’ll soon be on your way to super-charging your day!

Mistake Number One: Thinking There’s One “Right System”

How to create a To Do list that works for you by Dr. Jack SingerEvery time another productivity book hits the best-seller list, thousands of people jettison their planners, calendars, software programs, and iPad/iPhone apps, thinking that if they just buy the latest and greatest system, they’ll be able to get a handle on their ever-expanding “to-do” list.

The problem with this approach is that while it can be really fun to color-code your tasks, set up e-mail reminders for the next sixteen years, or invest a month’s worth of groceries in a new planner, there’s no guarantee that what works for the author, a blogger, or your best friend is going to work for you. You know yourself and you know what is interesting to you. Stick with what you know and just expand on it.

“To-do” list or task-management systems come in all shapes and sizes. There are electronic versions that are slick enough to send your mom an e-mailed Mother’s Day card for you. There is the good old-fashioned pen-and-paper lists in your day minder, and there are all sorts of hybrids in between. You can “Get It Done” with David Allen, let Franklin-Covey plan your life, or try to remember the milk with the Remember the Milk app on your iPhone. But if you don’t pick a system that’s in line with your personality and your life, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

Here are a few things to ask yourself before you invest in a new to-do or task management system:

  • How much time do I want to invest setting up the system and maintaining it? Some systems require you to input all your tasks and appointments into a database, while others rely on a five-minute update at the end of each day. Figure out how much time you have available to allocate to this task. Let’s face facts. If it doesn’t suit you, or you can’t allocate enough time in your day to perform this task, it will simply remain undone. Just one more frustration!
  • Am I a digi-type or a paper-type? Even though it may seem like “everybody” is relying on their iPad to track their to-do lists, you’re not like “everybody.” You may find it downright uncomfortable to have everything kept digitally – and that’s okay. Frankly, the very real concerns with cloud computing and the daily stories we hear about password hacking may be something that prevents you from going 100 percent digital. There is nothing wrong with that!
  • How much “stuff” do I want to carry around with me? If you like to travel light, you may find digital the way to go – or you may want to use a single 3×5 note card to track your list. Alternately, if you carry a backpack, messenger bag or purse, a larger notebook or device might be your computer of choice.
  • How complicated am I? Do you want a simple overview of your tasks, or a color-coded, ranked list backed up by project sections in a notebook or computer file? Don’t go for the gold standard when aluminum will do!

My advice? Match your system to your preferences and personality. Not everyone needs a computerized system capable of launching the next space shuttle, and not everyone is comfortable with a pen-and-paper format. Find something that works for you and stick with it – even if “everyone else” is moving on to something shiny and new.

In my next blog post we will discuss that age old problem of putting way too many things on your “to do” list. It is frustrating, and you wind up feeling needlessly bad.  We will talk about increasing, rather than decreasing your productivity. Stay tuned!

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