Daniella Whyte

Drop the To-Do List and Schedule It (365 Days of Spirited Living – DAY 195)


Drop the To-Do List and Schedule It

“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”
— Henry Kissinger

Why do the most successful and productive people in the world use a schedule (or calendar) as opposed to a to-do list?

Well, according to researcher Kevin Kruse, there are several reasons. One of the main reasons is that to-do lists have a few weakness that keep projects from getting done and goals from being reached.

Personally, it is easier to get a sheet of paper or a blank sheet on your word processor and make a numbered list of everything you have to do. But a list is all that it is. And a list with no action points is useless. 

If it’s too short, you’ve probably left something out. If it’s too long, you’ll probably be too overwhelmed to get started on any one thing. And usually there are no dates or time boundaries to get anything completed.

According to Kruse, one of the weaknesses of a to-do list is that time is left to chance. When we have a list of any size of tasks, we, by default, tend to start with those things that are easiest or not as time consuming. And we somehow never get around to the larger tasks. In fact, 41% of all to-do lists tasks are never finished.

To-do lists add stress to your life. The Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist, Bluma Zeigarnik, developed the concept of the Zeigarnik effect. The Zeigarnik effect states that people experience intrusive thoughts about a project or goal that was once pursued but never completed. Our conscious mind will be signaled by the automatic nervous system that a previously started task was left incomplete. We remember half-finished tasks better than we do complete ones and this is what contributes to our high level of stress.

To-do lists, according to Kruse, don’t distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. Just like when we don’t apply time boundaries to tasks, our natural impulse is to ignore what is important and to neglect what is urgent. And when we ignore the important things and neglect the urgent things, we waste time doing minor tasks and cause more crises and conflicts for ourselves and others.

This is why we should drop the to-do lists and replace them with scheduling our projects. Utilizing a calendar gives us the power of dates and time periods. Scheduling a project for 9:00 AM on Monday morning ensures that it gets done at that time on that day. This not applies to the urgent and the important, but it works for ensuring time-off, uninterrupted quiet periods, and vacations.

When we schedule work projects and even our free time, we ensure that those get done. Assign blocks of time for the things that are true priorities. If you really want to get it done, put it on the schedule and if it doesn’t get scheduled, it probably isn’t as important as you think. Time that is not applied will eventually get lost. The things that go unscheduled often go undone.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”
— Alan Lakein

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