Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why To Do Lists Don't Always Work

I think that everyone who reads my postings even occasionally is aware that I quite literally live my life by making or having a list for everything. (Well, not quite everything, but almost.)

I have received a number of e-mails, from readers and students who have attended my seminars, telling me that To Do lists don't seem to work for them. Things fall into the same old routine, even when the list is prominently displayed on the front of the refrigerator. So, what's up with that?

My first and obvious answer is that before you sit down and write your list, be honest about your commitment to it and give each task a deadline.

Many times, an individual will experience a really good feeling of accomplishment when the carefully drafted To Do list is finished and hanging in its place. It's a new beginning, and the first step has been taken. This feeling of already having taking action, for the not-so-eager beaver, can last for as much as a month. After a while, you no longer even see the list as a "special reminder," and it becomes a part of the way the refrigerator looks. Things fall back into the old "oh I forgot!" groove.

This is also true for notes pinned to a board or stuck to the computer if action is not taken in a timely fashion. Even the Mona Lisa would stop taking your breath away if she was hung on the refrigerator door for that same period of time. The brain adjusts and eventually stops noticing things.

To make an effective To Do list, each task must be assigned a time frame, which you must enter into your daily calendar as you would an appointment with your doctor.  It needs to be a priority.  And if you list not only what you need to do, but when and where you will actually do it, you are much more likely to cross it off that To Do list once and for all.


  1. Howze this for obsessive, I have my To Do Lists going back to 7th grade. The idea of approaching the list just like that of a Doctor's appointment is a brilliant one, as is fleshing out from the list not only "what," but "when," "where," and "how." That makes for a good app idea! (Split the money with me if you make it first?!) Best.

  2. I'm still not a fan of To-do lists. My husband lives by them. I feel controlled by them and constantly feel like a failure if they don't get completed. I've tried the time limit thing and then feel as if I'm under pressure. I use them for work for tasks that must be completed by a specific date; but, that's about all.