Why you should bin your to do list.

If time travel exists and I’m given the gift of using it, even if just once, I will find the very first person who said ‘Make a to do list’. That was the point when time management efficiency walked away.

I’m not into extermination of people but I would, with great gusto, exterminate the first person who muted the suggestions that making a list was a good idea.

Even better if I could use a ‘Find and replace’ function on everyone so that when the words ‘Make a list’ float into the vicinity they are immediately replaced with ‘put it in your diary’

I am waging war on the ‘to do list’.

The ‘to do list’ and most variants of it, are held up as an effective time management tool. There are endless models of effective time management which incorporate the poisoned chalice into their very being but I am going to rant about their existence here!

Let me explore this using a housekeeping example. Do you have storage boxes? Do you put stuff in them? and if so what do you do with them?

Storage boxes are seen as a great solution to having too much stuff. So off we trot to the nearest shop that sells all those fascinating items that we wonder how we ever managed without them. In my time, have been side-tracked and beguiled by brightly coloured washing up bowls with matching accessories as well as a perfectly carved honey spoon. Honey spoon?  Does anyone use a honey spoon?  It’s a clever retailing concept, sell lots of stuff that we want in our lives, that is ultimately useless and then sell us the box to put it into for when we can’t bear to get rid of it. The reality is that the storage box, like the to do list is a scene of unfulfilled aspirations.

The worse thing that you can do to solve your storage problem is to buy a storage box – either use the items or get rid of them, and the worst thing you can do for your efficiency is to use a ‘to do list’.

So, this is what happens.

You get stuff to do. You add it to the bottom of your ‘to do list’ with a very clear intention of getting around to it and being able, with great delight, cross it off when it’s done.

But it never does. I don’t mean that you don’t do anything. I expect you do, I expect you are very busy working very hard, weighed down by the number of items that are still on that list.

From time to time,in an attempt to get sorted out you make a new list.

You take all the unfinished items off your old list and put them in a new list and add to it everything else that you can think of even adding a few things that you have already done so that you can have the satisfaction of immediately being able to cross items off and feel great that you have made progress. You might even go to the extent of getting yourself a wonderful new notebook to aid your progress.  In 2011, UK manufacturers sold approximately 23 million British pounds worth of paper note books, letter and memorandum pads. (source www.statista.com) . How about a lovely new pen to go with it, and possibly a collection of highlighter pens in different colours for an efficient categorisation system.

Now feeling slightly smug and very much in control, all your time management issues are solved. Except for the fear that you will lose you list,you are sorted.

You are not. Your list will never get any shorter. You will still have problems in getting everything done. and you create a daily reminder of just how much you feel you are underachieving.

Just like those storage boxes, items lie fallow on the ‘to do list’. However prettily packaged and well intentioned they are parcels of stress inducing inactivity. And the real victims of the to do list mentality are the projects that mean the most to us, the ones that will move us forward to reaching our potential, that tap into our aspirations and make us who we are meant to be. These are lost in the fog of email checking and data reporting and firefighting forever discarded to the top of each new list to yet again be passed over in favour of more urgent but often less important tasks.

On millions of ‘to do lists’ around the world are the seeds of greatness.

Lying fallow waiting for the day – hopefully one day soon – when the only item on the list is the great project, along with the time and energy to do it. Instead when that day arrives, not that it ever does, a hot bath and mindless TV is much more alluring for some vital and well-earned recovery time.

Get rid of it.

For efficient time management, you only need one thing. Your diary. This is how it should work. You get a task. You immediately schedule planning time into your diary. You plan the job at that time and then diary all the steps that you need to take to reach a completion point. Put them in your diary, not on your ‘to do list’.  Make an appointment with yourself for when you are going to take action and do it.

If you have a notebook habit and can’t bear to part with them, then don’t. Use them for planning but once planned put the actions into your diary and use your diary – only your diary – as your guide to what you are doing. Use that new pen to cross items off in your diary.

There are so many benefits of this strategy.  Not the least of which is that you have a realistic delivery date that you will deliver on it. Imagine this. You are delegated a job. You plan it and then you tell people when they can expect you to deliver and you do it; whilst getting everything else that you need to get done as well. You plan around the time you have available. In short using your diary as an appointment with all your tasks and not just meetings and appointments means that you deliver both on delegated tasks but those projects that make a real difference to you.

You cannot create time; you can only manage yourself to make the best use of the time you have available. You want to be efficient, reliable and professional.   Your ‘to do list’ is stopping you from doing just that, SO BIN IT.

Bridget Marchi is a learning and development consultant, executive coach and mediator. With over 25 year’s experience in publishing and online fashion she is passionate about working with people to develop strong foundation skills that will support them through their career. Whilst she has extensive experience of delivering classroom style she now offers online learning options with The Time Management ToolBox and Steps to Success, a self-coaching programme for long term success (click the link to get the early bird offer of just £20 – less than half price). She has also published The Management Jigsaw, a management induction course in a book.