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08 Mar

Is it worth the trouble?

Datum: 2022-03-08 10:28

Don’t all this struc­tur­ing just amount to more work? Do we real­ly need a to-do-list? Is it real­ly worth the trou­ble of writ­ing down every­thing we have to do?

These are legit­i­mate ques­tions. The pur­pose of hav­ing a good struc­ture is to make it eas­i­er to get things done, and then of course the struc­ture itself should not con­sti­tute a thresh­old or obstacle.

I receive ques­tions such as these from time to time when I give lec­tures, and you might have already guessed that I always answer them with of course it is worth it”. Allow me to explain why.

Argu­ing for the bet­ter option
I find that there are three sit­u­a­tions in which we tend to ask our­selves if we real­ly need a to-do-list. We think:

  • I will just remem­ber it. Isn’t that enough?

    No, not for most peo­ple I meet. Dur­ing a reg­u­lar day when the tem­po might be quite high and we have a lot to do, it is very easy to for­get things. Sud­den­ly we remem­ber some­thing we should have done ear­li­er (which we had for­got­ten) and we will have to exert much more effort and strain our­selves to get it done on time.

    Our mind is a rather poor choice of loca­tion to keep to-do-tasks in when it comes to get­ting an overview and sort amongst all the tasks we need to do. Few peo­ple man­age to hide” the to-do-tasks they do not want to focus on at the moment (you have prob­a­bly tried not to think of a pink ele­phant when asked not to…). When we can­not obtain that clear and com­plete overview of every­thing in our minds, we tend to just do what we come to think of rather than what actu­al­ly has the high­est pri­or­i­ty. You do the right thing but at the wrong time.

  • I have it all in my e‑mail account. The inbox is equiv­a­lent of my to-do-list.

    Sure, until now you might have used the e‑mail inbox as part of your to-do-list (but only part of it since some things you have to do did not orig­i­nal­ly appear in an e‑mail). Besides, this is anoth­er imprac­ti­cal for­mat to keep the to-do-list in as well. Some­one keeps adding items to it, includ­ing items which do not con­sti­tute to-do-tasks. The tasks/​sub­ject-lines in the list are rarely for­mu­lat­ed in terms of what the actu­al task is com­prised of, but rather along the lines of Re: re: re: re: the project”. When we have for­got­ten what to do with the e‑mail titled Last meet­ing”, we need to reread the e‑mail to remind our­selves. If we had for­mu­lat­ed the to-do-task right after read­ing the e‑mail in the first place, when it was obvi­ous to us what we need­ed to do, then we would not have to both­er reread­ing it.

  • Well, we have the busi­ness’ oper­a­tional plan, our project-plans and all the activ­i­ties sched­uled in the cal­en­dar. Why should I re-write all of that as steps in a sep­a­rate list as well?

    What­ev­er you have done so far is fine, but are you real­ly get­ting the overview you need to be able to see and sur­veil­lance all the more exten­sive tasks you have to com­plete and hence ensure that you are pro­gress­ing as you should in all of them? Are the notes made in the tools you men­tioned above detailed enough? Is what you have to do clear­ly defined as sep­a­rate to-do-tasks which each takes less than a work­day to com­plete so that you get to enjoy tick­ing at least a few of them off your list every day?

Do this

  1. Be hon­est with your­self. Have you gath­ered all the tasks you have to do in the sin­gle place or tool you pre­vi­ous­ly deter­mined would be the only loca­tion for to-do-tasks?

    Or, do you have any unde­fined tasks in oth­er places for which you thought Nev­er mind writ­ing it down, I already know what I need to do”?

  2. Look through your e‑mail inbox and define any oth­er tasks you come to think of. Have a look at the notes you have made dur­ing all meet­ings you have attend­ed in the past week and sift out any tasks you have for­got­ten to define and write down sep­a­rate­ly. Also look through your cal­en­dar for upcom­ing meet­ings and activ­i­ties, and make note of to-do-tasks you need to do in rela­tion to these and which you have not yet added to your list.

Invest your time well now and you will thank your­self later
The few extra sec­onds you have to spend on spec­i­fy­ing and writ­ing down every to-do-task is time well spent and invest­ed. It will become much eas­i­er for you to get an overview of all your tasks and engage­ments, you can be more cer­tain that your pri­or­i­ties are accu­rate from one day to the next, and you will be able to plan more things in advance. All in all, you will have a con­crete tool that will help you keep track of every­thing you need to do, which is a pre­req­ui­site for fine-tun­ing your struc­ture and find­ing a healthy bal­ance between your work and the rest of your life.

What tool or method do you use?
How have you sim­pli­fied the process of defin­ing and mak­ing note of to-do-tasks so that it is done in a flash? If you have a good idea or method, tell me!