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Get Rid of Your To-Do List and Get Things Done

Updated on May 18, 2015
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A lot of people (including myself) struggle to complete their goals.

A popular way to combat this is to make up a to-do list. So, to stop my procrastination, I started making lists on Sticky Notes and placing them on the walls in my room. Whenever I completed something, I removed it from my wall with pride.

After about two months, I began to notice something.

There were certain tasks that I would complete immediately. These tasks (making the bed, organizing the desk drawers, etc.) were always small. I always felt like I had accomplished something once I tore them off my wall. Other tasks took more time (completing my homework, arranging a meeting with a teacher, etc.), but would get done shortly. I’d rip them off my wall with smug satisfaction, knowing I was moving forward.

But, the bigger, much more important tasks on my lists would never get done. I had a Sticky Note with the words “Update Resume” on my wall for the entire time before I realized what was going on.

I thought I had been using my small “to-do lists” as a way to track my progress. I thought, by visualizing my accomplishments, I would get encouraged to finish more tasks. In actuality, I was completing the easier tasks so I could avoid the harder tasks on my list.

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My procrastination had gotten worse.

I wasn’t getting anything done.

I reached a point where I refused to put certain goals on Sticky Notes (starting a business) on my wall. I didn’t want to feel guilty for not completing the harder goals. I thought it would be better to stick to the smaller goals, rather than be more ambitious.

It was then, I realized, the “to-do list” system is flawed.

Why?

You become a victim to the items on a list. The easier it is to complete a task, the more you feel positive and happy. The harder and longer it takes to complete a task, the more frustrated you feel. Instead of helping you stay organized, to-do lists feel like they are nagging you. You feel guilty if you don't complete things quickly. So quick and easy things are the only things you do.

This paradox is called the Zeigarnik effect. Our mind and body's health will suffer until the every single task is complete. Until then, we dwell on it constantly.

I had to make a change. I scrapped my to-do list altogether. Surprisingly enough, I am still organized, and I still manage to get things done.

How? Simple.

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Just Do It

Yes, Nike is right. Just doing it is the best option there is.

Here's why: deciding whether to put something on a list or not doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. My desire to start a business doesn’t disappear because I refuse to put it on a Sticky Note. My resume isn’t going to update itself because I put it on a list.

I know these are things I want and need to do. Putting it on a list won’t change that.

So, in the words of Mark Twain, "Eat the frog first." Do the more difficult things first.

So, instead of taking the time to organize a to-do list, just do it. By just doing it, you’ve taken control of the situation and made an action. To-do lists encourage procrastination and wasting time elsewhere

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You need to realign your priorities.

If a difficult task comes your way, treat it like a game of hot-potato. Get it done then, and you'll thank yourself later. You’ll get more, harder goals completed, rather than fewer, easier goals.

It's not to say to-do lists don't have their place. A list is fine if it:

  • Requires more than one day to complete (this limits the tendency to want to complete easier goals to avoid the harder ones.)
  • Is not ongoing (ongoing goals can't easily be checked off because of their variable nature.)
  • Is time-sensitive (things that are time-sensitive inspire more action than static goals)
  • Has no more than three goals on it at a time (it is scientifically proven 98% of the human population's brains cannot handle multitasking. So limiting the amount of goals you need to do gives you room to focus on the goals you do have.)

If your list meets these qualifications, then it's fine. If your list is too expansive, has ongoing tasks that vary in difficulty, you've created a recipe for procrastination, frustration, and guilt. It's now time to end it.

Look at your list of things to do. Try to figure out if your to-do list is helping you, or hurting you.

For most people, a to-do list is a crutch. Organizing lists encourages many people to think about their goals, rather than do them. Get rid of this crutch and take control of these tasks. You will open up more opportunities and do greater things in life.

After getting rid of my own list system, I can attest to this fact.

Is your to-do list helpful, or hurtful?

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    • Nicole Grizzle profile image
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      Nicole Grizzle 2 years ago from Georgia

      @Perspycacious Seeing as the to-do list "scoring" method seems to work for so many people, I may have to try it out myself. I didn't know so many people loved to-do lists! Thanks for the comment.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      What makes big tasks difficult for me is Attention Deficit Disorder (someone wrote a Hub about it, and that helped me realize that I have it). Sometimes that even combines and merges with other hurdles such as bipolar, etc.

      I voted Up, Awesome, and Interesting. (We have the potential on HP to learn so much from each other....unless we just read Hubs we know we will enjoy!)

      I liked the idea others have touted of giving the To Do List scorings of "A" priorities, "B", "C", Etc. But setting three major tasks to start, continue, or finish each day makes fine sense, too. Some things such as "that book", "the gardening", "being a great dad", don't succumb to a burst of energy and they are done, but Start/Continue/Finish will see it happen.

    • Nicole Grizzle profile image
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      Nicole Grizzle 2 years ago from Georgia

      @sparkleyfinger Wow! You must be a pretty motivated person in general. So many lists would be hard to keep track, in my opinion. But it's interesting to see that working for you. Thanks for the comment!

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 2 years ago from Glasgow

      I love a to-do list. I have regular reminder lists- ie hubpages, blog etc etc.. But I also have a weekly list that I really think out each week to ensure everything is achievable.

      Don't get me wrong- sometimes I have carried things over a day or two just because other things have got in the way, but I always love a list to stay focused.

      It's ice to see it from someone else's perspective though- what works for one, doesn't necessarily work for others! Voted up!

    • Enigmamity profile image

      Ramachandra A Pai 2 years ago from Vasai

      Consistency is key. I agree :)

    • Nicole Grizzle profile image
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      Nicole Grizzle 2 years ago from Georgia

      @Enigmamity I checked out your hub. Sorry about that. You have a lot of other good pieces of information in there, so don't worry too much!

      You are right when you say to-do lists are good for reminders and such. But, even if it started out that way, to-do lists can quickly turn into someone's only motivation.

      Think New Years Resolutions. There's a reason why only 8% of people actually complete those things. It's the wrong mindset.

      Consistency is key, in my opinion. And to-do lists just don't teach you the habits you need to complete the goals you have now and for the future. And that's why I'm not a fan of lists.

    • Enigmamity profile image

      Ramachandra A Pai 2 years ago from Vasai

      Haha! You can never rely on a single technique to get the results. Different situations need to be handled differently. To-do lists work fine as long as you use them for activities as a reminder (not as motivation).

      I guess you can split the bigger activities into chunks of smaller activities that can be done quickly i.e.for a resume, if you cannot finish the entire thing at once, do it part by part. This gives you time to notice any flaws when you go through the resume to complete the remaining part.

      After reading your hub, I think people will be apprehensive about reading my hub on time management :P

    • Nicole Grizzle profile image
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      Nicole Grizzle 2 years ago from Georgia

      @peachpurple I noticed that this happens too. It's an unfortunate trend!

      @B. Leekley I'm going to check out WorkFlowy. From what you describe, they seem to promote a more healthy mindset in terms of goal setting. From what I've seen, so long as you establish consistency, you will earn good habits that will help you achieve your goal and then some. When I do some more research (and see some results from my experimenting), I'll probably write a hub about it.

      @Susan Deppner I'm the same way. I can do all the preparation and organization in the world, but starting something is really hard for me. Sometimes it just take a little "kick" of inspiration to get you going. I'm glad I inspired you!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      You said, "Organizing lists encourages many people to think about their goals, rather than do them." Nailed me! I love organizing but hate getting down to the task at hand. Well, maybe this old dog needs to learn a few new tricks. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. This hub is so true, at least for me. I think that I am an enneagram of personality type 9, and one of our character traits is sloth, which often manifests itself by our keeping busy doing unessential tasks to avoid doing the tasks that are really important to achieving our heart's desires. I am struggling, with some limited success, to become an achiever instead of a procrastinator.

      I find that a to-do list (I create mine using WorkFlowy) is helpful regarding routine tasks. I know from what, day after day, I am not marking as complete what I am neglecting. An example is toning and limbering exercises. It is not so much a matter of just doing it -- pushups, for instance -- as of determinedly doing it daily till I reform the habit.

      Most days I make it a point to devote one to two hours to some project(s) I have been avoiding. Too often I fool myself and get sidetracked. Thus, my home office remains disorganized, I have not finished unpacking from a move four years ago, it has been awhile since I posted a new hub, and several works of fiction remain "in process" year after year.

      My Coggle "Get Done" mind map says to set up the folding bookcase in the kitchen. Tomorrow I shall just do it.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i used to have a to do list and end up getting 2 done out of ten. Gave up