How to Write a To-Do List That Won’t Hurt Your Productivity
January 6, 2014
My goal for 2014 is to have weekends off.
As a small business owner, we all know how important it is to have goals. One of my goals for this year is to be more productive during my work hours so my work hours don’t expand and take over my life.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m terrible at not working. Saturday morning usually finds me sitting on my deck overlooking the ocean with my cup of coffee… you guessed it… working! Ditto for Sunday.
If this sounds like you, read on for some assistance on optimizing your to-do lists in 2014.
At some point you’ve probably made a to-do list with 10 or more tasks to complete in a short period of time. As you get to work, the sheer immensity of tasks leaves you in a state of paralysis, with a heavy sense of obligation and a nagging feeling in the back of your mind.
That nagging feeling is the result of having too many conflicting tasks. A large list of conflicting goals creates repetitive thoughts about the tasks at hand. There is constant worry that is created in the individual’s mind.
Human beings are completionists. We like to get things done. Psychologists call that nagging feeling the Zeigarnik effect, an old phenomenon in the field of psychology. Our mind will remain fixated on an unfinished task, causing our mental and physical health to suffer too. Upon completion we are freed from the burden of this task.
The psychological rush of completing all of our tasks is a state our mind loves. So why do we make those gigantic lists (that will take eons to get done) in the first place?
It’s one of the great pitfalls of a to-do list.
Dr. Tim Pychyl is an expert in the area of procrastination research. He argues that you feel an immediate sense of accomplishment simply by writing down all the tasks you would like to complete, without completing any one of them. Your brain will simulate the success you would like to feel.
Writing down many non-specific tasks on a to-do list allows you to fantasize about successfully completing hard tasks and gives you permission to mentally indulge in this thought. It is instant gratification, but you haven’t really accomplished anything.
Starting your day with an unprioritized to-do list can also undermine your ability to make productive decisions as the day goes on. Ego depletion refers to the amount of decision-making “points” we have. As we use up our points our ability to make “smart” decisions becomes impaired.
Founder + Executive Director
Marketing Strategy, Business Optimization & Web Development
Jillyn is a business process and strategy expert. She has nearly a decade of Fortune 100 experience and has spent the past six years helping small businesses and nonprofits expand their success. Along with the day-to-day operation of the Technology Aloha business and team, she stays involved with every project we work on.