Why to-do lists do not work… And calendars either…

Why to-do lists do not work… And calendars either…Why to-do lists do not work… And calendars either…

“Neither our standard education, nor traditional time-management models, nor the plethora of organizing tools available, has given us a viable means of meeting the new demands placed on us.” ~ David Allen

To-do lists were invented at the same time that time management started to become a problem for many people, especially for knowledge workers. There was too much to do, so at the beginning it was at least necessary to have a clear inventory of all that stuff.

Once we had those long lists in our hands, we saw that they could be improved. We could identify the tasks to be done at a specific time and put them in special task lists we called calendars. There are still many people who handle all their tasks with a calendar (what harm Google Calendar has done!)

To-do lists were still very long so, in order to be able to focus on only one subset of those tasks, we added the concept of priority. This was nothing other than a number (1, 2, 3) or a letter (A, B, C) that we wrote next to each task, normally following some subjective criterion: the sense of urgency that it provoked, how much we liked to do that kind of task, how much we liked the person that had requested that task, etc.

Today, the vast majority of people try to manage their daily activity with these two tools, usually combined: a list of prioritized tasks and a calendar. Just look at the plethora of applications available for these two classes to get an idea of the demand for these tools.

Well, if you feel identified with what you’ve read this far, let me tell you that this is not working anymore.

To-do lists are not efficient. They lack of context and don’t include your mission and your goals. These lists that are constantly growing and rarely decrease, so they produce a growing feeling of being overwhelmed. Despite to-do lists, everyone still keeps being super-busy and super-stressed by the amount of things to do in the little time they have.

Of course it is better to have some kind of organization than nothing at all. But prioritizing a task list is a very simplistic approach (or changing the order in which they appear in our favorite to-do app – which ends up being the same thing.) It forces us to focus on what is urgent and to ignore what is important, until what’s important explodes in our faces and causes a major crisis.

Deciding what action should be performed at every moment is a risk we must take, a risk where our intuition plays a major role. And to minimize that risk, our intuition must be very well informed. The extreme simplicity of the daily to-do lists or an ABC classification will never respond appropriately to the question What should I do now?.

If you want to be able to make good decisions when it comes to determining what’s the best thing that you can be doing at every single moment, you need a more sophisticated systemthat helps you frame the tasks within the appropriate horizons of perspective. A system like GTD that, in addition to other benefits, incorporates all the needed elements to make you trust your intuition and assume the responsibility of making your own decisions.


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