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