The standard to-do list might not be as innocuous as it seems. Here's how to fix yours--and actually get the important stuff done.
What could be wrong with the humble to-do list?
It seems like nothing more than an elegant if low-tech solution to dumping the swirl of tasks in your brain onto paper, keeping track of progress and giving yourself a series of little post-check pats on the back. But according to Jim Benson, author of Personal Kanban, your to-do list may actually be stressing you out.
Instead of overburdening your mind with too many tasks, Benson suggests a technique adopted from Toyota's manufacturing process, which is also the title of his book. He explains this "personal kanban" to Fast Company:
What we do is take a whiteboard and create three simple columns: Ready, Doing, and Done. In the Ready column, you populate that with Post-it notes of things you're supposed to do. In the Doing column, you set a limit--we recommend three things, though it can be higher or lower. So now instead of having a theoretically unlimited capacity for work, you now have a very visible limited capacity for work.
When you complete something, you look at the Ready list, and you say, "Okay, I've got one slot out of three. What is it I can put here that’s of highest value?"… Each of those columns are vital, because the Ready column is showing you options--previously your to-do list was a death sentence, but now it’s turned into options. The Doing column says "Here's the list of things I'm working on; I can't start anything else until I complete one; finish it!" Then the Done column allows a growing real-time retrospective of your work.
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel