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Eliminate Your To-Do List

Eliminate Your To Do List

“We are preoccupied with time. If we could learn to love space as deeply as we are now obsessed with time, we might discover a new meaning in the phrase to live like men.”

~Edward Abbey

I have conducted countless seminars on time management, and I am always amazed at the number of people who keep to-do lists (nearly 99%). I occasionally ask these people what they would do if I took away their to-do lists, and almost without exception, they say they could not live without them.

From talking with these people, I have found that having a to-do list gives them a sense of security that they will not forget anything. However, studies show the contrary. On average, only 40% of items on to-do lists actually get done.

In psychology, there is a concept called the Zeigarnik Effect, which states that things on your to-do list stay on your mind until they are completed, creating stress and many other maladies. Just because you write it down does not mean you are not ruminating on it. This causes discomfort much like with procrastination.

Now I am not saying to-do lists are bad. Rather, I am saying there is a much better approach that yields better balance and peace in your life. This approach is so simple, and the majority of very effective leaders use it all the time.

Instead of just adding to a running list of to-do items every time something new comes up, put the item on your calendar and give yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete it. By allocating time for it, you can stop worrying that you will forget because the task now has a clear-cut place in your schedule. The difference here is the task is not creating havoc in your subconscious as you worry about when you should do it.

The beauty of this approach is twofold. First, imagine someone comes in and asks you to do something. Instead of simply creating a task on your to-do list with no real idea of when you will be able to get to it, you can look at your calendar and see how full you are. You can either tell the person when you will be available to get the task done or that you just do not have the time.

Now imagine if a high-priority task drops in your lap—for example, your boss asks for something right away—you can simply move tasks around on your calendar to make room. Nothing gets forgotten. In essence, you just move your schedule around to accommodate the new change.

Secondly, one of the most important benefits of this approach is you can ensure you are allocating time for your family and community activities. It is critical to have good balance in your life.

Now go out and let go of your to-do lists. For at least a couple weeks, try scheduling your tasks on a calendar instead to help manage your time.

You can do this.

Published: May 25, 2016

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Jerry Osteryoung

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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