Got lots to do? Then a to-do list seems like the obvious solution. By getting it all down on paper, you can organize your tasks, make sure nothing is missed, and provide yourself the satisfaction of ticking off each item you complete. What could possibly be wrong with that?
More than you might think, responds author Kevin Kruse in an intriguing LinkedIn post. "In my research into time management and productivity best practices, I've interviewed over two hundred billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students, and entrepreneurs. I always ask them to give me their best time management and productivity advice. And none of them has ever mentioned a to-do list," he writes.
What's wrong with the good, old to-do list?
Why do the likes of Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson skip making to-do lists? (Though Branson does swear by writing down your goals, if not your individual tasks.) Kruse offers a few compelling reasons. First, that little thrill you get when you check an item off your list subtly incentivizes you to complete urgent tasks that you can get done quickly and easily. Harder (and frequently more important) to-do list items often get put off as you happily congratulate yourself for picking up the milk and organizing your inbox.
Secondly, to-do lists actually add to our stress. Looking at all those unfinished tasks can be an intrusive reminder of what you haven't done, interfering with your ability to get in the flow or feel accomplished. (No wonder some highfliers have swapped their to-do lists for done lists.)
Lean on your calendar instead.
So what do the super successful do instead of making lists? Apparently, they make schedules. In Kruse's post, he offers several quotes from famous people showing that a carefully kept calendar beats ticking a to-do list.
"Time-block the most important things in your life, first," writes Kruse, outlining the approach used by many of the highest achievers. "Get clear on your life and career priorities and pre-schedule sacred time blocks for these items. That might include two hours each morning to work on the strategic plan your boss asked you for. But your calendar should also include time blocks for things like exercise, date night, or other items that align with your core life values."
It's advice that jives with other recent posts and articles claiming the truly successful even schedule their leisure time, as well as a host of productivity advice from business leaders that stresses clear-eyed focus on your goals paired with liberal use of the word "no" rather than any particular time management tool or trick like a to-do list.
Is it past time you retired your trusty to-do list?