Get Rid of Your To-Do List

Stop making to-do lists. They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration. Consider the to-do lists you’re currently managing: how many items have been sitting there for over a week, a month? How often do you scan your list just so that you can pick off the ones you can finish in two minutes? How many items aren’t really to-dos at all, but rather serious projects that require significant planning and time?

A list is useful as a collection tool. It’s there to help us make sure we know the pool of things that need to be done. A calendar, on the other hand, is the perfect tool to guide our daily accomplishments. A calendar is finite; there are only a certain number of hours in a day. That fact becomes clear the instant we try to cram an unrealistic number of things into a finite space.

So the alternative to the useless to-do list is what I call “living in your calendar.” That means taking your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transferring them to your calendar. (Don’t forget to leave time to process your email. And leave some empty space — one to two hours — each day to deal with the inevitable crises that will crop up.)

I work on my calendar every evening. So here is how I do it:

  1. What Gets Scheduled- Schedule in your calendar anything that feels important but not urgent. If it feels urgent, you’re likely going to get it done. If it’s something you can put off, you likely will — especially if it’s challenging. Since your entire to-do list will not fit into your calendar — and I can assure you that it won’t — you need to prioritize your list for that day. What is it that really needs to get done today? What important items have you been ignoring? Where can you slot those things into your schedule? Then, once you schedule an item, cross it off your list.
  2. Every Task That You Have to Do Becomes A Calendar Block- Schedule each to-do into a time slot, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email.
  3. Priority Blocks Should Be Scheduled In The Morning- Do the most important thing on your list first when you get to work in the morning, for up to 90 minutes.
  4. Breaks and Lunch- Take at least one scheduled break in the morning, one in the afternoon, and leave your desk for lunch.
  5. The Check Down- As your final activity before leaving work in the evening, set aside sufficient time — at least 15 to 20 minutes — to take stock of what’s happened that day and to decide the most important tasks you want to accomplish the next day. This becomes an everyday block for me.
  6. YOUR CALENDAR SHOULD BE FLUID- This is probably the most important one of them all. Things come up and that is ok. What is most important is that when something comes up, an impromptu meeting, life event, etc, you are acutely aware of where you are in your day according to your calendar. When you can get back to your calendar, before you get back to work, take stock and make adjustments. You may have to move blocks around or to another day altogether. 
  7. Don’t Give Up- If you don’t succeed at your calendar today, try again tomorrow. Continue to make adjustments to make your calendar work for you.

It is an eye-opening exercise: you’ll probably find that it’s tough — if not impossible — to find a place for everything. 

Putting your work in the calendar enables you to better determine whether or not you can (or should) say yes to a new project. And if you do say yes, you can better determine when you realistically might be able to get it done. Set expectations about what can be accomplished with the amount of production time you have available.

So do yourself a favor: ditch the to-do lists, and start living in your calendar today.

Meiko SeymourComment