Myth: If I Haven’t Gotten Through My List, My Whole Day Has Been Lost
“It’s five o’clock and I haven’t even gotten to the things on my list!” How many times have you said that? “To do” lists organize our day and prioritize our tasks. They make us feel armed and ready. But then the day starts, the immediate demands take over and by day’s end there sits the list, glaring at us. And as we look back at it and see that nothing has been crossed off, we think “I’ve worked all day and haven’t gotten anything done.” And we haven’t, right? Wrong!
Now don’t misunderstand me. “To do” lists are wonderful tools when we’re working to become more organized or even, dare I say, disciplined. I recommend my clients create them and even offer a free “To Do Priority Template” Success Tool on my website. I like “to do” lists because they force us to become proactive, plan ahead and take responsibility for our choices and decisions yet to come.
But just because we haven’t finished the specific tasks on our “to do” list doesn’t mean we haven’t had a productive day.
Creating a list and then checking off the items on it definitely gives us a sense of accomplishment. It offers tangible evidence that we’ve gotten something done. But when our list becomes our only measure of productivity, we can make the mistake of using it as a tool for being punitive rather than productive. When that happens, our “to do” lists become constant reminders of what we haven’t done. They offer one more reason to feel bad about our job and ourselves and become one more excuse to give up trying to improve our organizational skills.
So how can we feel productive even when our lists aren’t getting smaller?
1) Make your list, but check it twice
If you never get to the items on your list, before your blame yourself, take another look at your list. Is it simply a list of things to get done? Does it give you room to re-prioritize or adjust to change? The best “to do” lists aren’t just lists; they’re plans. Plans include prioritized tasks, but they also integrate those tasks into a realistic outline of the “real time” work day, scheduling around the expected and leaving room for the unexpected.
If lists become too rigid, they create an all or nothing trap, which, as my Case Study on Time Management shows, makes people unwilling to create them at all.
2) Put down your “to do” list and make a “ta da” list
Rather than wringing your hands over what didn’t get checked off your “to do” list, at the end of the day make time to create a “ta da” list. Write down everything you did that day. My guess is you’ll be surprised at how much you actually accomplished. And just because it wasn’t on your list doesn’t mean it’s any less important. After you list each thing you did, then (you guessed it) check them all off. See? It was a productive day after all.
So the next time you get to the end of your day without getting to the end of your list,
remember that all is not lost. You may not have accomplished your “to dos,” but you can celebrate a whole day’s worth of “I dids.”