As a rule, I don’t favour making choices. I and overwhelm don’t mix.
Generally speaking, stick a comprehensive, many-paged menu in front of me and I’ve lost my appetite. Flicking through any capital city guide of attractions is brutal.
The vast amount of choices hurries me to lie down in a dark room and order room service.
However, don’t get me wrong, I have my favourites. I won’t budge on my favourite colour, football team or teddy bear. (I don’t own a teddy bear, too many to choose from.)
I’m not sitting on the fence if you ask me “Tea or Coffee?” Not a seconds delay when choosing a bottle of red or a bottle of brown, sauce that is.
Put me in front of an overwhelming number of choices is exactly, 100% “OVERWHELMING!”
I spend precious energy over analysing or second guessing my decision.
From time to time I get the opportunity to see other people’s interpretations of to-do lists.
To be honest, as I arrive at their last ‘to-do’, I’m exhausted and wonder how do they get things done?
That was me a few years back. I remember, during one of the many quests for the ‘being organised’ trophy I brain dumped 60–70 ‘to do’ things onto 3 A4 pages.
It felt great having gotten all those things out and onto paper.
Overwhelm Versus Busy
I puffed out my chest with pride as if to say “You are so busy!”
I rubbed my hands together with conviction, raring to get my head down and strike an indelible pen through some of these lines.
First question, “What will I do first?”
Scan and Turn Page, Scan and Turn Page, Scan and Turn Page.
With each scan and turn of each page my energy was running out quicker than a fake Duracell bunny.
This was a list of 60–70 WORTHWHILE tasks!
“There has to be something better than this. How can I have so many things to do, and yet I can’t choose what to do next?” I told myself.
I had experienced firsthand the danger of using to-do lists.
Don’t get me wrong. We need a list of things to do otherwise we’ll allow important and urgent tasks to go unnoticed and not get done. That wouldn’t be at all productive, would it?
But, if we don’t do it right, we are in grave danger of OVERWHELM.
3 Dangers Of To-Do Lists
What are the dangers of this kind of list?
1. Tasks or NOT Tasks
Earlier, a year ago, I spoke at an online writer’s retreat. I explained the difference between a task and a project. It went down well with the attendees.
A project as outlined by David Allen in his book “Getting Things Done” is:
“any desired result than can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step.”
To see the point that David Allen is making here, grab your current to-do list and ask yourself this question.
(Take a minute to have a look, and then continue reading.)
“Are there any tasks here which requires more than one action step to complete?”
If there are, write next to it “Project.”
Furthermore, transfer all those tasks with “project” written next to it onto a list entitled PROJECTS.
What’s the second danger of a to-do list?
2. Not Designed For Effective Choices
A boring, plain list of tasks fails to consider important factors in need of analysis.
Where are you?
How much time do you have until your next appointment?
What are your energy levels?
What deadlines do you need to think about?
Rather than writing a list of jumbled tasks, we need to separate them into different contexts.
To begin with, some of those different contexts or groups could be:
- Phone Calls
Can you see an advantage to having a list of tasks separated into different groups?
Try it and let me know.
The third danger of a to-do list is particularly dangerous!
What is it?
3. Failure to Promote Consistency or Trust.
Reflecting back, my to-do lists were:
Last Minute Cramming and Organising
Feelings of Frustration
Why did I allow myself to get into this hole?
I DID because of not having a trusted method which promoted consistency.
Instead, all I had built up was a head full of steam and increased pressure needing a release or I was going to explode.
True, writing a to-do list released some pressure, but did NOT promote trust or consistency.
I would cross off some tasks over the next few days, but within a short amount of time I’d be back to needing to “let off steam.”
As a result, I would produce a to-do list full of tasks that were in reality projects.
A to-do list which did not take into consideration environment, time and energy levels.
If we are to do away with to-do lists then what can we use?
If you only have a few projects, then a good old pen and paper system might be suffice.
You would need a suitable notebook that has a list for Projects and Next Actions or Tasks.
How do you arrange a project into step by step tasks?
That’s a great question, and will be the focus of an upcoming article.
Do you feel particularly comfortable using digital methods to project and task manage?
If so, there are many options available. (Bring on the overwhelm again.)
(I will only recommend software that I have used or are currently using.)
Since 2012 I have incorporated Evernote as the cornerstone of my productivity system.
Want to understand how Evernote progress you towards a trustworthy system?
The following articles will help.
Make OVERWHELM a friend of the past.
Destroy your to-do list into a system that empowers you to define a ‘task’ and a ‘project’.
Destroy your to-do list into a system which empowers you to make effective choices.
Destroy your to-do list into a trusted system which empowers growth and consistency.
This is what I have been successful in doing. If you would like help doing the same and gaining freedom from overwhelm take a look at Productive Momentum.