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  • Writer's pictureMadhura

4 Reasons why your to-do list is not working

Do you have a to-do list, or you just don’t get around creating one? Are you able to cross off all the items in your to-do list every day or you feel demotivated as most of the items in your to-do list are not done? Do you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, or you feel more in control by looking at your to-do list? If you are listening to this episode, chances are you have created a to-do list at least at some point. If you always struggle to keep up with the to-do list, then this episode is for you. If you want to create a more efficient to-do list, then this episode is for you. If you want to create a to-do list that actually works then this episode is for you. So, let’s jump right into today’s episode - Episode 84 - 4 Reasons why your to-do list is not working.

Everyone creates a to-do list at some point. There are some who create a to-do list every single day and love to check it off the items from that list. There are some who create a to-do list but somehow, most of the items keep showing everyday as those are not completed. There are some who want to create a to-do list but get overwhelmed by the idea of writing down their tasks, they feel creating a to-do list is an additional task. Which category do you fall in? Don’t worry whatever category you fall in; I am going to cover all the bases today. So, why your to-do list doesn’t work? Let’s get right into the reason no 1.

You don’t have one

Simple right? Your to-do list is not working because you do not have one. What do I mean by this? Let me explain. Most of us have a habit to rely on our memory and brain power to remember the tasks, chores that we have to do on a daily basis. This works fine for our habits because we are wired to do certain chores mechanically. Because, we have been doing this for years. You don’t need to add “brush your teeth” in the to-do list, it is given right? It is part of your daily habits. But we tend to rely on the same technique for other chores which are not part of daily habits. They tend to vary in terms of their nature and time, but we still think that we will remember to do those things. Our mind is best utilized for creative thinking and not for burdening it with daily chores. We need to rely on to-do lists rather than our mind. It is a kind of delegation technique. Let me take a simple example. Let’s say, today you want to call your pediatrician and book an appointment for your kid’s annual wellness visit. You also want to go to the post office to get some stamps. You have to work on that presentation for the upcoming work meeting. You also need to sign up for the parent teacher conference. You have to work on your blog post that is supposed to go live the next day. You also need to put a load of laundry. Now, you think, you know what your chores for the day are? You can easily remember those. What is the need to write it down? But the problem is if you don’t write it down and instead you try to remember it every single day, your mind is bogged down by the sheer number of chores that it has to remember. It not only has to remember the list but also has to keep track of each task to make sure it is completed. You have to go over your list in your mind every time you complete one chore to figure out what is pending. You spend your precious energy in remembering those chores rather than doing them. This results in unnecessary stress and chaos. You feel stressed by the sheer number of chores that you need to finish on that day. Sometimes, you forget one or two tasks, sometimes because you have not analyzed how much time each one of them is going to take up, you just commit to too many things and end up feeling overwhelmed. Not having a to-do list and just relying on your memory to remember all your everyday tasks is first and the most important reason why your to-do list is not working.

It is too scattered

This is easily the most common reason why to-do lists don’t work for most of us. You created one to-do list in the morning on a piece of paper in the kitchen while you were waiting for the tea to heat up. You then create another one as soon as you start the workday for your office work. You then remember a few more chores during the day and just create another one to complete post workday. The next day, you create a few more without checking what happened to yesterday’s list. This goes on and we end up with a bunch of scattered to-do lists, one in the kitchen, one on our desk, one on our phone, one on a sticky note, one on the last page of some random notebook. Am I right? Has this ever happened to you? I am sure it has. So, what is the solution? I recommend creating only one or at max two to-do lists. One for your personal life and one for your professional life. What I do is I create my to-do list for the next day every night before going to bed. I use a small diary from the dollar store, and I keep track of my to-do list in that notebook. I write all my personal chores that I want to accomplish the next day in that notebook. For my day job, I maintain the to-do list on my workstation. There are so many great apps that you can use if you want to digitize your to-do list. Having all your to-do items in one place helps you assess the situation better; your brain feels less scattered, and you feel in better control of your day. So, it is a good idea to have only one or two to-do lists. Alright? Are you with me till this point? Now, the next reason why your to-do list is not working is because you just have way too many things on your list.

It is too long

Simple right? Sometimes, you put down too many tasks on your to-do list without analyzing how much time it really takes to finish each of the tasks. You work really hard to go through all the items in your to-do list, you try to cross it off most of them, but you just have too many. It is not possible for anybody to work tirelessly for the entire day. Everybody needs a breather, everybody needs a little down time, everybody needs a little break from the rush of completing the chores. Our brain cannot function at its highest capacity for 24 hours. You need to take all this into account while putting the item in your to-do list. I want you to slow down and take a look at your to-do list and see if you can shorten it a little bit. Do you really need to get everything done in one single day? Can you break down the tasks a little bit? I want to share a simple technique with you. I actually want to make an entire episode on this technique, it is that useful, but here is just a glimpse of it. The technique is called “The Eisenhower matrix” It was named after the 34th president of the United States, Dr. Dwight Eisenhower. It is one of the most powerful time management techniques. The Eisenhower Matrix uses this same principle to sort out the less urgent and important tasks on your list, which you can then delegate or not do at all. You need to see which tasks from your list are important and which are urgent, are there any tasks that you can delegate and if there are some tasks that you can completely skip. Prepare your to-do list considering these parameters and you will never feel overwhelmed by your to-do list. Now, the next reason why your to-do list is not working, will shock you. Do you know what could be the last and final reason? It is too short.

It is too short

I know, I know, I just said, your to-do list is not working because it is too long, and you need to shorten it. Now, I am saying it is too short. Is it a mistake? No, let me explain what I mean by a short to-do list. To-do list needs to have an actionable list of tasks. It needs to have the tasks that you can measure, allocate time and should be a single step task. Let me take an example. Let’s say your son’s birthday is a week away. You know you need to start preparing for his birthday. If you write preparation for a birthday party on your to-do list, do you think you will be able to cross it off by the end of your day? No, because it has so many moving pieces. You need to send out the invitation, buy the return gifts, buy the groceries for the party, order the cake, book that jumpy place for his birthday, buy some balloons for decoration, buy him a gift, wrap that gift, so and so forth. All these tasks cannot be done in one single day. Also, if you just write to prepare for your son’s birthday, your brain again has to remember all these micro tasks in order to accomplish that one big macro task that you added in your to-do list. Your to-do list is too short because you added one big macro level task which has several small, micro tasks involved which you have not even mentioned in your to-do list. Such a short to-do list won’t work because it does not give you a realistic idea of your exact number of tasks. Same applies to your professional to-do list, if you just write “deliver the project build to QA” in your list, there are chances that you miss a step or two because you added a very high-level project rather than breaking it into chunks of actionable steps. You need to break it down and write all the necessary steps involved in that and then cross it off. Only exception to this is highly repetitive tasks. E.g. When you write laundry as one of the items in your to-do list, you don’t really need to write, put the clothes in the washer, add the detergent, start the washer, then start the dryer, fold the clothes. This is a highly repetitive and predictive task that you have been doing for a long time. Writing “laundry” should be enough unless you have a tendency to forget the washed clothes in the washer for days before you realize that you need to put them in a dryer, right? Jokes apart but creating a highly effective to-do list is one step closer to having a streamlined day. Your day needs a room to breathe, your brain needs a room to breathe and having an effective to-do list just provides you the means to do so. As Steve Jobs once said, deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Let’s just remember, the future belongs to those who prepare for it and creating an effective to-do list is the best way to prepare for upcoming day.

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