The 3 Problems With To-Do Lists and How to Fix Them

As useful as they are, the to-do lists we all use haven’t advanced. Here’s why.

We all know that organizing work makes it easier, and most of us have at least one method for doing this. Some of us use deadlines as organizers—as the deadline looms and the stress mounts, then the work starts getting done—but the most popular method is the traditional to-do list of random items thought up in the moment and then prioritized. Regardless of where they live—on paper or a whiteboard, online or in an app—all traditional to-do lists share these 3 problems.

Problem #1: We expect too much from them. Whether you use an organizer, an app, or the back of envelopes, your list is most likely daunting and repetitive, with the same to-do’s getting shuffled from day to day and week to week. It’s unrealistic to expect isolated, random to-do’s on a list to capture the complexity of our life, let alone simplify it. We continually get organized and reorganized—but we never get organized and stay organized. We routinely fall behind and feel the frustration that comes from consistently not accomplishing all that we need to do or want to do.

Problem #2: Many tasks never make it to the list at all. They seem too small, too simple, too ordinary, or even too routine to actually write them down. Yes, sometimes we’ll actually create a list of tasks after we’ve completed them just so we can get the little endorphin rush that comes from checking a bunch of tasks off (you know you’ve done it), but we rarely write out everything we have to do beforehand. Instead, we use an enormous amount of mental energy to remember hundreds of details and rely on our memory to tell us what we’ve accomplished and what we still have left to do.

“Regardless of where they live—on paper or a whiteboard, online or in an app—all traditional to-do lists share 3 problems.”

Problem #3: The to-do’s are all part of larger jobs. These jobs have their own set of associated tasks. Because the tasks that are all part of the same job end up on different to-do lists, the tasks get disconnected from the job and purpose they belong to, reducing the motivation to get them done. Let’s look at “take care of the garden” for example. This job is made up of a number of tasks. You might put “weed the garden” on a separate to-do list every week. “Buy plants” might get put on another family member’s app. “Build patio” has been punted from list to list for over two years—there’s never been a big enough block of time available to devote to it. “Water the garden” probably won’t make it on anyone’s list until the garden looks terrible and it becomes a clean-up project you may not have enough time to take care of. “Check fertilizer and buy more if needed” might not make it to the list until you go to plant your flowers in the springtime and discover that there’s not enough left from last year. The result? Gardening plans foiled, time wasted, motivation gone—and you still haven’t taken care of the garden, the job you wanted to accomplish through all these to-do’s in the first place!

The Solution: Clear off the tasks you keep re-writing on your to-do lists and put them into Organized Routines. An Organized Routine is a set of recurring tasks related to the same job or body of work—like all the tasks that are part of taking care of your garden. With Organized Routines, each task is given a specific frequency and is assigned to a specific person. This gives your recurring tasks a permanent home and makes them purposeful, helping you not just get organized but stay organized—problem one solved. Because all the tasks are listed out beforehand, you don’t have to spend your mental energy trying to remember all the whats, let alone the whens and whos—problem two solved. Because Organized Routines are built around the job each recurring task helps fulfil, all the tasks that are part of the job, like taking care of your garden, are all in the same place—problem three solved.

The best part? Our software—Tactick—is built specifically for Organized Routines. With Tactick, you can browse dozens of pre-built routines, add the ones you like best, and start getting all the recurring tasks done that make or break the big and little things in your personal, family, and business life.

Category: Personal

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