If you’re like most people, you have a to do list that is hurting your ability to do your best work.
Whether it’s a scribbled-down list of weekly items or a seemingly never ending archive of everything you’d like to eventually get to, the to do list is a favorite tool of the modern worker.
Unfortunately, as entrepreneur and app developer Dave Lee explains on his blog: the to do list can hinder your ability to do your best creative or innovative work.
Consider that nearly every to do list system out there is based on a long list of tasks you must diligently manage and review in order to organize your day, every day. Lee writes:
“The tendency is to fill up your task software with dozens of projects and tasks under each project. But the more you look at your projects and tasks every day for the next few weeks, it gets discouraging. It feels like a never-ending river of stress.”
Your to do list is hurting your ability to dig in and do what matters most: work. Rather than a to do list, what you need is a system for ignoring the to do list in order to focus your limited time and attention on what needs to get done each and every day.
Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Suster takes this a step further than Lee, living by a rule he calls “Do less. More.” While author and investor Tim Ferris recommends maintaining a “Not-to-do list,” stating:
“‘Not-to-do’ lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance. The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.”
To improve your work, consider this system for getting things done:
- Continue to store a to do list as initiatives spring and grow, but do not refer to your list during the work week. Hide it away.
- At the beginning of your work week, look at your to do list and select the two to five most impactful things you can get done that week. Each of the two to five items you select must have an explicit, expected outcome to go with it.
- Write down one or two focuses from your list for each day of the week, with a maximum of two tasks being scheduled for a single day. If your tasks aren’t enough to fill a day, consider that a sign you need to expand your focus.
- When each day arrives, focus on the task at hand and don’t bog yourself down with any other items on your larger (hopefully hidden) to do list.
- Repeat tasks you’ve scheduled but haven’t been able to complete in a day for the following day, pushing all other tasks or projects back (with the last task in the week being pushed out of your calendar week).
To do lists can be powerful, but only if you don’t let them bog you down and distract you from doing the work the matters. As lee concludes on his blog:
“Daily focuses and minimal tasks keep you focused and super productive. It makes doing creative work fun.”