How often do you write out a to-do list for the day and complete everything on it? If you are like most people, not very often. Many time management and productivity ‘experts’ will tell you to break down big tasks into smaller ones, but all this does is take an already long list of things to do and make it even longer. It does nothing to solve the problem most people face today. Too many tasks: not enough time.
Why don’t to-do lists work?
Before I answer that question, I need to point out that there is one area where to-do lists do work — they get whatever your mind is holding on to into an external place where you can see what needs to happen. This clears your mind for a while. It helps you know you can manage even the busiest times.
Where to-do lists do not work is helping us to work on the essential things in life: our personal goals, our family and personal relationships, our health and wellbeing and our happiness.
By their very nature, our to-do lists are full of tasks and errands that do not move us anywhere near to achieving the things that are important to us as individuals. For most people, their to-do lists are full of tasks such as reply to this email or that email for most people. File my latest tax declaration, send expense report to the finance team or call client B. You would be hard-pressed to find any task related to your wellbeing or goals or relationships.
I rarely see tasks on people’s to-do lists such as: “talk to my partner about what they would like to do this weekend”, “call David and ask if I can borrow his DJ equipment” or “call Jenny and ask her if she would like to go out for a run on Sunday morning”. Yet, these kinds of tasks are the kind of tasks that will support your health, wellbeing and goals.
If you are not working on your health, wellbeing, and goals, what are you working on?
Okay, I hear your “yeah buts” here. “We have work to do”. And with work comes a long list of tasks that need to be performed, so we are not fired. I get that.
But try something right now. If you have a to-do list, add up all the tasks you have on that list for this week and divide that number by the number of work-related tasks. Then times that by 100 to give you a percentage.
If you are like most people, you will find that more than 80% of your to-do list tasks will be work-related. Do you think that is right? Do you think that is a great way to live your life? More than 80% of what you do each week being related to what you are employed to do. I hope not.
The real problem with to-do lists is they promote the slow destruction of your life.
They become a source of stress and overwhelm, and they do not support you as an individual, they support your employer — who will be employing you at the minimum required to keep you from leaving.
Is that how you want to live your healthiest and most productive years, working on someone else’s goals at the expense of your own?
If we break down a 168-hour week, you will find that most people work an average of forty hours. That usually eight hours per day over five days. That still leaves you with 128 hours. More importantly, your forty hours is only 24% of your whole week, yet you are likely performing more than 80% of your tasks each week on only 24% of the time in the week. Something is very wrong.
If you put in a fraction of the effort you put into your work on your personal goals and tasks, you would see an immediate improvement in your relationships, health and overall happiness.
So, what would you like to be spending more time on each week?
Most people recognise that to enjoy a long and fulfilling retirement; they need to take care of three areas of their lives: health, wealth and relationships.
Without your health, you will spend your retirement in and out of hospitals and likely find yourself not being able to enjoy activities such as walking in the hills, paragliding, swimming in the ocean or sailing your yacht. Without some savings, you will find yourself stuck in the same location, unable to travel because of a lack of money.
And if you have not looked after your relationships, it won’t matter how healthy or wealthy you are because you will have no one to enjoy those special moments with.
And I can promise you, all those tasks you completed from your to-do list five or ten years ago won’t make up for the destruction caused to your health, wealth and relationships.
How should your to-do list be working?
Your to-do list needs to support you and not be the exclusive ground for your work. Yes, your job is important, but it is not exclusively important. Your, health, wealth and relationships are equally, if not more, important.
So, start your to-do list with what is important to you. Plan out your week and make sure you put what is important to you on there first. Make sure you have time for exercise, for socialising — for spending time with your friends and family first. These are your most important tasks for the day and week not Mrs Smith’s urgent need for an additional cat litter shipment. Sure you need to arrange for Mrs Smith to get her cat litter, but you also need to make sure you have time to take lunch and socialise with your close colleagues (and not talk shop)
As Jim Rohn said: “When you work, work. When you play, play. Don’t mix the two.”, that does not mean when you are at home you do work as well — okay, I know many of you are working from home right now, but you know what I mean.
Most task managers today allow you some form of filtration. You can filter your to-dos. This means you can filter out your personal tasks when you are working, and you can filter out your work to-dos when you are not working. You can create a workflow that begins the day with tasks that work on you and your goals; then when you arrive at work, you open up the list of things you need to do related to your work and when you finish your work you can switch to a list of tasks for when you are at home with your family.
It is easy to allow our lives to get caught up in the stress and overwhelm of work. We tell ourselves; ‘when I have finished this task, I will switch off and go home’. But we don’t, do we? We do another check of our email before we switch off, and before we know it, we are caught up again in email.
Your employer is not going to stop you. The only person who can take responsibility for your life is you. So take responsibility. When you are at work, you work on your work, and when you are at home, you work on you and the things important to you.
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My purpose is to help as many people as I can live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.
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