So which type of list is best? The answer to this question will be different from person to person because different people have different temperaments, circumstances and requirements.
But if we look at it from the point of view of which type of list is going to dominate in the evolutionary struggle of list versus list, then we may be able to come to an answer. For a long time now the “catch all” system has dominated when it comes to time management advice.
However useful “catch all” may have been in the past I think it’s days are numbered. The reason for this is the changing nature of work and leisure.
To go back a few hundred years, for the vast majority of the population their to-do list, if they’d written one, would have gone something like this:
Plough fields all day
Go to bed
Make shoes all day
Go to bed
Do housework all day
Go to bed
Nowadays thankfully life is far more varied than that. But it comes at a price. At least in the developed world the amount of choice we have both in our work and in our leisure increases day by day and the means of communication are multiplying too. We will soon have people entering the workforce who have never known what it is to live without a Smartphone.
This amount of choice poses a huge problem. The tendency is to try to follow up every opportunity that presents itself, regardless of the fact that it’s actually impossible to do so.
What we need is a time management method that a) encourages us to focus on a few things that are really important to us, and b) discourages us from doing other things that get in the way of the important stuff.
In this day and age time management needs to be at least as much about stopping yourself from doing things as about doing things.
The perpetual busyness and sense of overwhelm which afflict so many people is an illusion. All of us fill 24 hours a day with something - no more and no less. Our effectiveness will not come from succeeding in working 36 hours a day however hard we try to.
The secret is focus. We must each decide what our priorities are and ruthlessly weed out everything that doesn’t support those priorities.
It is the list that supports focus that will win the evolutionary stakes.
Let’s arrange the types of lists in the order in which they produce and support focus (least to most):
- Daily Open List. Lacks the focus of the daily and weekly lists. Can also result in only trivia being processed.
- “Catch all”. Positively encourages lack of focus. Also highly unmotivating due to the weight of undone stuff.
- Daily and Weekly Lists. Encourage a greater degree of focus. But still a tendency to leave a lot of work undone, often the most challenging.
- No list at all. Done properly this relies on well-thought out systems and routines. If these have been optimized, using no list at all can provide a good degree of focus.
- “No list” List. Facilitates the provision of systems and routines. Keeps focus firmly on what can be done during a day. Provides record of what has been done to base future days on.
“No list” Lists are challenging but the most focused. I am convinced that the future of time management lies with them.
What do we need in a “No list” list system?