To-do lists are often held to be the most essential tool of the organized professional, but is it possible that our beloved lists are actually keeping us from getting stuff done?
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In a post last year on HBR Blog Network, Daniel Markovitz argued that to-do lists can actually impede productivity.
“Stop making to-do lists,” he wrote. “They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration. Consider the to-do lists you’re currently managing: how many items have been languishing since Michelle Bachman was leading the field for the Republican nomination? 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?”
Is Every Two-Minute Item a Waste?
For some of us, of course, throwaway items that can be accomplished in two minutes are part of the point of to-do lists: they not only make us more organized, they make us feel more organized.
The problem comes in when you start building lists with so many inessential items that you can no longer see the trees, so to speak, for the forest.
Batching Might Be the Answer
Many experts suggest that grouping your tasks by like item (e.g. writing a bunch of emails, or answering phone calls) will help you sort and prioritize better.
Multitasking, as we know, isn’t really possible in the strictest sense. You can’t really do more than one thing at a time; you can only waste energy going back and forth between tasks.
To-Do Lists: A Waste of Time?
Ultimately, only you can decide whether or not a to-do list makes your life easier or complicates your work day unnecessarily. But even if you can’t imagine a life without lists, it’s a good idea to reassess your system from time to time to see if it’s actually making you more productive.
Tell Us What You Think
To-do lists — love ’em or hate ’em? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.