5 Reasons Your To-Do List Isn’t Working

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

A to-do list is a simple, effective way to manage your time, and most professionals use them, in one form or another. When you use a to-do list, there’s a lower risk that you will forget something important, but that doesn’t mean that this tool will solve all your time management problems. Many people use a to-do list on a daily basis, but they still manage to miss deadlines. So what is it that they are doing wrong?

You’re leaving your list on your desk

When you rely on a to-do list to manage your daily tasks, the process will go wrong if you miss things off the list. Your checklist of activities needs to go with you everywhere, or the chances are that you will not capture all the jobs you need to finish. It’s not a good idea to keep your to-do list on a desktop computer if you have to attend lots of meetings because you won’t have the document to hand. Make sure that your list is completely portable (either a paper notebook or an iPad will work) and make a habit of updating it throughout the working day.

You aren’t prioritising the items on your list

A list of tasks is just one part of the process because you only have a certain number of working hours in the day. It’s likely that your list will contain tasks in the order that you remember to write them down, but that’s different to the order in which you need to complete them. One solution is to write every task you can think of, and then use colored markers to highlight the most important things for that day. Work through the highlighted tasks first, and then turn your attention to the lower priorities, if time permits. Remember that if you finish twenty low priority tasks in one day, you still aren’t as effective as if you had finished three high priority tasks in the same time.

You are confusing tasks with projects

The average to-do list has a range of activities, each of which requires a very different amount of time. You can complete some tasks in minutes, where others may take days or weeks. If your task list has items that are going to take a long time, you need to break them down into smaller, shorter tasks, so that you can better manage your time. Time-consuming, complex tasks are probably projects, and you should never have projects on a to-do list. A simple rule is to make sure that your list only features tasks that you think you can finish within a single day.

You’re not allowing time for the tasks on your list

You can spend hours writing and reviewing a to-do list, but if you don’t create the time in your schedule for the tasks, you still won’t complete them. Remember that to-do lists don’t magically create time in your calendar. When you compile or update your list, take the time to check your diary at the same time, and find slots where you can schedule the necessary time to spend on each task. Estimate how long you think the longer jobs will take, and make sure that you put the right amount of time to do them aside. If you don’t actually block out time during the working day, the chances are that your to-do list will just get longer and longer.

You’re using your to-do list too much

You can’t always break down every single part of your role to put into a to-do list. It’s easy to define and record all the things where there is a tangible output, but sometimes you need to create room for other activities. For some people, to-do lists become a compulsive obsession, which means that any task not on the list disappears into obscurity. In order to become as effective as possible, you also need to allow time in your day to consider different ways of working, to spend time with your colleagues, or to simply think about your future goals. A to-do list obsessive will document and complete everything on paper, but will often lose sight of the bigger picture. Remember that your to-do list is just one tool in your time management toolkit, and you still need to have room to think about the needs of the business.

If you’re struggling to get everything done, a to-do list is a quick, simple way to start gathering all your daily tasks, and keeping a track of what you need to do. The best time managers realise, however, that they need to manage their to-do list in the right way. Make sure that you are as effective as possible, and don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a to-do list can fix all your time management problems.