Organizing Information

The Problem With To-Do Lists

Do you use to-do lists? Do you find it satisfying to check off the items on that list? Too satisfying perhaps?

More than once I've found myself adding something I've already done to my daily list. I get to check it off then, you see. I get "credit" for all the things I've done. Whatever satisfaction this may give, it's also an indication I'm confusing effectiveness with just being busy.

Do To-Do Lists Help?

Of course it helps to write down meetings and events and necessary tasks. The problem is we sometimes start to work for the list, and then the list may not work well for us. It's easy to feel like you're getting a lot done when you have a list to "prove" it. The question is whether you are getting the important things done.

It seems so reasonable to sort my files again right now. I would feel good to cross that off the list. I have many such things that show up on my to-do lists, giving me plenty of opportunities to avoid more dificult things, like writing this article. This is what I need to be doing, however.

A Better To-Do List

Prioritise your list. You can put the more important things at the top, or put a mark next to them. Then start doing the important things first every day. If, like myself, you need the satisfaction of crossing off the small things on the list, do those only as a reward - after you do one of the important tasks.

Make sure the most important things get on your lists. That big trip to Nepal you're going to take "someday," may never happen until you break it into steps you can put on your list. In fact, it may be worthwhile to stop list-making altogether, until you clarify what IS important to you.

To break my list-dependency, I put things on my list just so I can ignore them to do more important things. You don't want to just "get busy," do you? If you want to move towards real values, you need to make your to-do lists work for you. Put that on your list for today.

Steve Gillman writes on many self help topics including boosting brainpower, losing weight, meditation, habits of mind, creative problem solving, learning gratitude, generating luck and anything related to self improvement. You'll find more at

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