Where todo lists fail

Posted by in Productivity

calendar photo

The problem:

There are tons of things on your to do list. You’ve written them all down. They are categorized beautifully, have clear descriptions and use verbs to describe what you need to do.

But they still don’t get done.

You’ve done all those things that everyone says that make todo lists magically get everything done right?

Not quite.

Where todo lists fail

To do lists are great for dumping everything you need to do into an external brain. But that’s it.

I’ve tried so many to do list apps and websites that I’ve lost count. I kept switching from app to app to app because I thought they were lacking something. I didn’t know what. I just wasn’t getting things done like I thought I would with a really good app.

Turns out they were all missing a step.

Thou shalt schedule everything

“If it’s not scheduled, it doesn’t exist” ~ Marie Forleo

When Marie Forleo says something, you listen. One of the most popular business websites on the planet right now, Marie knows a thing or 2 about getting things done. She’s worked with Richard Branson and a host of other big names.

She says you have to schedule things. I would have to agree now. Cal Newport agrees as well.

In Deep Habits: The Importance of Planning Every Minute Of Your Work Day, Cal says the best way to get the most out of your day is to schedule everything. You can move things around and react to changes, but open unscheduled time isn’t going to magically turn into productive work time by itself. You have to do that. By scheduling things.

The missing step on all those to do list apps is the scheduling. When something exists in a list, it’s separate from reality which means it’s not going to get done. We need to bring it into reality by scheduling it on a calendar. We need to set a concrete when and where something is going to get done to make it real. We haven’t yet done it but putting into Google Calendar is as close to real as I can get before that time.

That’s how many days worth of work?!?

Scheduling serves another important purpose. When we look at a todo list, there’s no concept of time. That list could take 30 minutes or 8 hours. That’s a big difference. When we put things onto a calendar, we’re forced to look at how long things are going to take and when we are actually going to fit those into your life. If you have 8 hours worth of work to do, and a very busy schedule, when are you going to fit those in? That work ain’t just going to magically happen.

Why schedule everything? Cal has an answer for you:

“In the context of work uncontrolled time makes me uncomfortable. If you’re serious about working deeply and producing high end value, it should probably make you as well. Using your inbox to drive daily schedule might be fine for entry level or those content with a career cubicle dwelling mediocrity, but best knowledge workers view their like investors capital resource wield maximum returns.”