Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
How do you feel when you look at the list of stuff you have to do today?
If you are like most people, it will range from a “I have so much to do” to an “I am going to run away to join the circus.”
Today I am going to tell you why a long task list is bad, and how to shorten your task list.
Why A Long List Is Bad
Writing down tasks that need to be done is good for your productivity. There is no question about that. But when the list gets long, it can actually hinders productivity.
We Get Overwhelmed By The Number
When your task list has far too many items on it, one glance at it and you can feel completely overwhelmed with the amount of work you need to do. Our human brains automatically assume everything takes longer than it does, and you subconsciously start adding up all the time, then realize there aren’t enough hours in the day.
If this goes on for too long, youwill start avoiding our task lists to avoid seeing the amount of work waiting for you.
The List Has Un-Doable Things
In all the years I have been studying and working with productivity, I have noticed that long task lists have something in common: they contain things that are not do-able.
What is a un-doable task? It is something that is vague, has multiple steps hidden in its depths or that can’t be done until something else is done.
For example, “replace water filter in fridge” is fine if you have the replacement part sitting in your hand. If you don’t have one on hand, and don’t know what model your fridge is or what the replacement part number is, this task is un-doable.
When there are too many un-doable tasks on our lists, they cause you to skip over them, since you know you can’t do them right then. And this leads to more tasks on the list, which contributes to overwhelm.
There Are Things That Shouldn’t Be On The List
I am all in favor of putting tasks on the list that are helping us to form habits, or that are not done every day. But many people put things on the list that don’t need to be there.
For instance, is it necessary to have an item on your task list to get dressed in the morning? Only if you routinely spend your day in your pajamas because you forgot to get dressed. (Not likely for 99% of the people in the world)
Things that are common sense or already ingrained habits show up on lists so people can check them off (“See how much I did today?”). Having these tasks on the list just bulks up the list, and clutters it so you can’t find the tasks that really need to be done.
You’ve Simply Taken On Too Much
It happens to all of us – we take too much on. Sometimes your task list is long because of this. You will be able to recognize it because each task will be something that needs to be done.
How To Shorten Your Task List
Fortunately, once you are aware of the things that cause a task list to bulk up, you can slim it down.
Look through your task list and ask the following questions about each item:
- Is this task vague? If so, make it more precise.
- Are there tasks that need to be done before I can do this one? If so, cross it off.
- Does this task have multiple steps? If so, replace it with the first thing you have to do.
- Is this a habit I have already established? If so, take it off.
- Is this a routine task? If so, take it off unless you would forget it.
- Is this task on there so I can have something to cross off? If so, take it off.
Ongoing maintenance is just being vigilant about what we are putting on the list. Holding each task up to the questions above can keep some of them off.
You also need to make sure that your overall commitment load is well-adjusted. For example, taking the CPA exam while planning your wedding is probably going to overload you (true story, that is exactly what my husband did).
Sometimes, even when we have shortened our list, we find that there are lots of tasks that just need one action before a project is done. If that is the case, schedule yourself a Finish it week and get those things off the list.
A Spot Of Productivity Homework – 5 minutes
How many tasks are on your task list? Take five minutes and week out the tasks that are un-doable or that don’t need to be on the list, and compare the numbers. How did you do? Please share your results below.
Photo by koalazymonkey. Licensed under Creative Commons.