I Lived for My To-Do List, But Here’s Why I Ditched It

Is there anything more satisfying than checking things off of a to-do list? I didn’t used to think so. But I recently decided to kill my to-do list obsession—and here’s why you might want to ditch yours, too.

A Love Affair with Lists

I’m not sure anyone loves a to-do list more than I do. I have bought special graph paper notebooks to make my lists even neater. I have bought countless apps that promised productivity nirvana. I’ve been known to put things on my to-do list just to check them off.

But here’s the thing—making a list and actually getting stuff done are two very different activities. Lately, as my life has gotten busier, I’ve had to admit that the tasks on my glorious to-do lists just weren’t being completed.

Attempting to solve this problem, I avidly read books and blogs on productivity and list-making (Never check email in the morning! Combine personal and professional tasks in one single list! Limit yourself to three daily to-dos!). But I just wasn’t checking off the items I really wanted to complete. And then I stumbled on a strategy that has been life-changing for me, and might be for you as well.

Goodbye, List, Hello…

Ready for the big reveal? Instead of putting tasks on a list, I started to schedule action items on my calendar. So, for example, instead of having “review Q1 profit and loss statement” or “take Zappos return to UPS” on a to-do list, I scheduled 30-minute blocks on my calendar to actually get those tasks done. All of a sudden, every task had a place and things were getting done. The strategy is so simple, I can’t even remember where I first learned about it.

(I should mention that I still use the classic tip from David Allen’s Getting Things Done that you should just do something right away that will take two minutes or less, rather than writing it down at all. I highly recommend it.)

Now, if I don’t do something at its allotted time, I have to reschedule another time to get it done. And if I move a task more than a few times, it’s a big hint to me that that particular activity may not be essential enough to do at all.

Calendaring tasks has been a total game changer for longer-term projects like a proposal for a new book I’m writing. I’ve been wanting to get the proposal completed for a while, but it never seemed to move up my to-do list when daily client tasks intervened. Even though I was so excited about the book (and can’t wait to tell you more!), I never seemed to find a window to devote to it, until I started scheduling blocks on my calendar. Now it’s almost complete.

I love to hear unconventional hacks from others, and that’s why I wanted to share this little tip with you.

Do you already use this method or would you consider trying it? What other productivity hacks are your favorites? Please share with all of us in the comments.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

9 Responses to “I Lived for My To-Do List, But Here’s Why I Ditched It”

  1. Heather

    What a great article! I’m obsessed with the lists in my planner. I list everything so that I won’t ever forget what needs to be done – in the house, with my kids, etc. I track everything from To Do’s to appointments, to books I must find time to read. I’m going to give scheduling time for tasks a try! Thank you.

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  2. Sarah Mitus

    I love a good to do list hack! I do something similar, but block together some tasks. So I’ll tell myself I have until my 10:30 meeting to complete X,Y and Z tasks which then makes me usually more productive.

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  3. Jill Pante

    I’ve also blocked out time to work on “to do” tasks but I have found when that 15 minute reminder pops up, I have to hit Snooze and not Dismiss so I don’t forget! I still have my lists – not sure I will ever get rid of those! 🙂 I clear out emails in my inbox once I’ve completed the task or response. Because of this, I will keep emails or send myself an email of what to do so it stays in my inbox until it gets complete.

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  4. Tracie

    I definitely love my lists, but lately I’ve found myself putting things off because I just had them on my to-do list rather than scheduling them for a certain time. I’ve started assigning them to particular days of the week, but I think this extra step of actually scheduling them takes it one step further. Thanks for this!

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  5. Lisa

    Absolutely brilliant! Love this tip. It’s so much harder to ignore tasks when they’re scheduled into my day!

    Reply

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