Is Your to do list a productivity killing list of shame? Here’s what to do.

A to do list can be a superb way to remind you of all the things you still need to do. It can also be a great motivator to cross thing off. It’s a good feeling to have finished everything on your list.

There is just one major problem I have with those. To do lists accumulate. They grow. Everybody knows this phenomenon. A list gets longer and longer. Until, at some point, it is so overwhelming that it’s not helpful anymore. It starts dragging you down, because it seems like you will never ever manage to get through all this.

I think most people have more to dos than they can handle in a day. This means, if you have only one list, every single time you look at it, it will inevitably remind you of all the things you haven’t done yet.

This way, over time, what started as a helpful tool will end up being a productivity killing list of shame. You will start worrying more about what has not been done yet and celebrate less what you have achieved.

Do not let this happen.

Three principles avoid being overwhelmed by your to do list

Have daily to do lists:

To avoid excessively long lists, you need to break your list into smaller chunks. The easiest way to split your tasks is by day. You should be able to focus only on those tasks that really need to be worked on today while hiding the rest.

Most popular to do list apps do a surprisingly bad job at this.

A great way to do this is using a tickler file. It automatically cuts your to do list into daily lists. Thus, each day, you have exactly what you want to do that day on your agenda. All future tasks are hidden from your attention. This gives you focus and motivates to get going. It’s also easier to decide where to start if you have fewer items on your daily agenda.

Be selective with what you put on your list

Only put items on your agenda that you actually will work on. Be realistic. Keep in mind that the planning fallacy will lead you to underestimate the time and effort needed to perform most tasks. You can also use not-to-do lists to force yourself to be more selective

Remove undone tasks

If you have postponed a task more than three times, consider deleting it altogether. Dare to do this. Some tasks may just not be worth it. If you cannot do this, you can keep them in a separate “someday/maybe-list”. A list, which you only check once a month or once a quarter.

Let’s sum up

  1. Do not let your to do list grow endlessly. It will inevitably drag you down.
  2. Be systematic in your tasks and hide future obligations from your view.
  3. Be selective and do not put everything on your list.
  4. Be courageous and delete tasks, you might never do.