To-Do Lists

This afternoon, while checking my LinkedIn account, I saw an article that required a response. The article1 was titled “Why to-do lists kill productivity” and authored by Emily Spaven, an Editor at LinkedIn News. The premise of the article is that the list serves as a feel-good tool so you can cross stuff off, and it focuses the list maker on smaller, less important tasks while the hard ones languish.

I am a list maker, but I write these lists to focus on the important things I need to do TODAY. My list is short, just the most important topics are on it. It’s not a ‘feel good’ tool so I can cross things off. I use it to stay focused.

 I am one of the worlds’ supertaskers. I did not know this was a ‘thing’ until reviewing the script for our Time Management workshop in 5G Power Skills. My curriculum developer had written about how multi-tasking was a significant productivity killer. Her script was returned with lots of red (based on personal experience, not research). I reacted to what she said in her scripts.

I do not know a world without multi-tasking. Yes, I get frustrated with people who are extremely linear, having to fully complete one task before picking up the next. I do my best not to interact with them. It is one reason I am a hermit and prefer working off by myself. I come out to give gentle guidance and course corrections to my team, and appropriate gratitude and recognitions, but then I am back in my corner, tuning the world out.

When my curriculum developer saw my response to her carefully researched work, she came and sat down with me and explained that I am a super tasker. In fact, the development team, when working on this, took significant note of my characteristics and behaviors. She also shared that is exhausting to watch me work. I am very productive, however, the speed at which I change topics and want to work with my team wears them out.

So, how does this relate to lists?

There is a downside to being a super tasker. We tend to be very easily distracted. This can kill productivity for a super tasker like multi-tasking kills productivity for non-supertaskers. Having a tool to stay on topic, to keep the focus, allows for my extreme productivity. That tool, for me, is the daily list.

I confess, I also have a longer-term list. This list allows me to take an urgent task and ‘park it’ so I am not tempted to drop what I’m doing to get it done. It allows me control and choice in where my focus is, without having stress about forgetting something. And it also gives time for what seem to be urgent tasks to ‘mellow out’ and become things that while they seemed critically urgent in the moment, really do not need to be done.

Of course, when one writes an article aimed at a broad population, one should expect responses from those who do not fall within the 1-sigma curve. In this case, I’m one outside your bell curve.

The bottom line is that I am a big fan of using lists. It is a focus tool. It enables me to achieve a focus and resulting productivity that would be elusive if I didn’t have this tool.

One more thing to note. I do not cross things off my lists. I know that they are done.


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