Most of us wouldn’t know what to concentrate on first if we didn’t have our to-do lists in front of us.
A common evening activity for many busy professionals is to compile or revise a list of all the pressing tasks for the next day.
However, at the end of every day, do any of us feel accomplished or relieved that we were able to cross items off of that list?
Or do we simply feel frustrated that the tasks never end, and we simply fail to accomplish what we set out to do every day?
Do to-do lists even help, or are there other advantageous alternatives to keeping ourselves on track?
Too Many Choices Are Overwhelming
Research has proven that our brains cannot handle too many choices, and that when there are more than seven options available, we simply freeze and can’t make rational decisions.
This is why when there are dozens and dozens of responsibilities on our lists, we tend to choose to do anything else instead – such as shop online instead of cleaning our flat.
Some Tasks Are Never Accomplished
Harvard Business Review explains that heterogeneous priority and heterogeneous complexity are to blame for some items remaining on our list for months, or even years.
This simply means that every single time we look at our list, we prioritise the most important tasks, and push the less vital ones to the bottom.
The problem is that there are pressing tasks daily, and the ones that don’t have a strict deadline get pushed further and further down the list – this is why you never seem to have the time to clean out your closet.
Heterogeneous complexity refers to the fact that when there are both easy and more complex tasks on our list, we want the gratification of crossing something off, so we always pick the easier projects first, and leave the harder ones for another time.
Ever wonder why you always find the time to sign your employees’ time off requests, but haven’t gotten around to writing up formal feedback for several months?
Alternative To ‘To-Do Lists’
Instead of writing endless lists, Harvard Business Review recommends setting aside time for each task on your calendar.
Pick what you want to do for the following day, week or month, and schedule the time in your schedule to accomplish what you set out to, leaving some available time for emergencies.
Head of Training and Development
Originally published: 23 January, 2017