Burn your to-do list!


read time: 2 min. approx.

That list. It’s probably staring at you right now. It knows when you are sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. It’s a source for your daily dose of guilt, and it’s ruining your life. I’m talking about that innocent looking, noble, optimistic to-do list of yours. Now, I don’t know you, but you may be like me. I know me. [1] If you’re like me then I think your to-do list is the reason that you are so frustrated by  procrastination, and your to-do list has become a tool for enhancing your procrastination. This is because your to-do list is a bad task manager and fails you on two fronts: quantitatively and qualitatively.

Quantitative Failure

The only real quantity that your to-do list represents is the, perhaps overwhelming, number of things that you have to get done. Not a good start. The list makes no mention of how long each of these tasks may take, as I’m sure that some are much longer than others. For instance, writing a rough draft will take much more time than going to the bank. Your to-do list, however, does not represent this. Therefore, you more than likely are expecting too much from your day. Your nasty little to-do list keeps telling you that you are lazy when, in reality, you are actually working as hard as you can. Stop feeling guilty. Burn that stupid list!

Your to-do list will consistently hide problems of time and scheduling from you. What other commitments do you have today? Meetings? Class? A birthday party? Coffee with a friend? Your to-do list fails to represent this schedule to you, making it very easy to over-schedule yourself. Don’t listen to it! You are a person, not some task machine.

Your to-do list also does not account for when the task might best be accomplished. Some tasks might be better batched together, others moved to certain times of the day. You might be more productive at completing some tasks in the morning, others in the afternoon. For instance, I love writing in the morning; but in the afternoon this prolific writer goes on a loooong happy hour, leaving the rest of me to wallow in a swamp of sentences until the writer comes back the next morning. You should take into account your own personality and flow, but does your to-do list?

Qualitative Failure

Your to-do list also fails to represent to you the quality of each task. Not all tasks are created equal. Which have the highest priority? Which are not as important? You need to ask yourself these questions because your to-do list is sneaky. If you don’t, it will set you up for qualitative failure by enabling you to procrastinate. Here’s the problem: We, as normal human beings, will often try to avoid the tasks that require us to do more work. Seek the path of least resistance, eh? The fact is, most of the time, the most important tasks that we need “to-do” each day are the ones that will require some form of effort. Enter your favorite procrastination tool: the to-do list. This list hides all your important work (possibly one or two things each day) under a mountain of less significant to insignificant tasks. It’s easy then to put off that important task because, hey, look at all this other stuff that needs to be done! Right? [2]
Couple this with the problem that you to-do list ignores the existence of time and, thus, has allowed you to overschedule yourself, and you’ve got the perfect storm of productive paralysis. At this rate you will never get to the important work.

The fact of the matter is, what I am saying is not earth-shattering. I think most of us know this, whether we have realized it or not. This is why we feel guilty about procrastination. I say: hear, hear. Raise your glasses (coffee mugs, tumblers) to toast a change. Stop blaming yourself! It’s not your fault. Blame that to-do list of yours. Douse it in the (metaphorical) alcohol of this toast, the gasoline of your frustration, and torch that thing (metaphorically, of course).


1. That’s right. I’m looking at you, Socrates.
2. A thoughtful alternative to this problem would be the “Structured Procrastination” method, but I will write more on that later. http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/


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