By Gene Benson
There has been some recent buzz about how a to-do list is a hinderance rather than a help. The argument is that we might look at the to-do list and choose an item that is easy to do, complete it and have a sense of accomplishment, while leaving more difficult or more unpleasant tasks undone. The writers claim that we might allow the less desirable tasks to remain on the list to never be accomplished.
I think we are all better than that. However, we can all probably improve our productivity by understanding that productivity is largely controlled by our attention. Humans, whether a product of our genetics or of our environment, vary significantly in many aspects of attention.
Some of us are more easily distracted than others and that is a whole related, but different subject. Regardless of our susceptibility to distraction, I find that a schedule of tasks to be completed is more effective than a to do list. Based on the concept of “plan your work then work your plan,” I make a detailed schedule for the next two days. I list what tasks I want to accomplish, assign an estimate of the time needed to complete them, sort them by priority, then compose a schedule for the day that includes the tasks along with other activities such as meetings, conference calls, meals, and more. For five days beyond that, I list, for each day, the tasks along with their priority and estimated time required to complete them. I am much more likely to tackle the unpleasant or difficult tasks if they are written down along with a time to begin them. Of course, things come along that disrupt the schedule, but if I must skip or delay something, I try to raise its priority and reschedule it as soon as possible. I spend about fifteen minutes each morning composing the schedule for the day and it is time that I quickly earn back by improved efficiency.
That method does not work for everyone, but I have been using it for several years and it has helped me to be better in my productivity.