“Any system that lets you wallow in the fantasy that one day you’ll get it all done isn’t just useless but dangerous, lulling you into frittering away your time.” (Oliver Burkeman)
As those who’ve read my book Secrets of Productive People will know, I advise people to throw away their to-do lists and rely on a “No List” system. There are two main reasons why I come down on the side of the “No List” system, one positive and one negative.
- The negative reason is that to do lists have an irresistible tendency to expand. This destroys real focus. I have taken “catch all” systems about as far as I can with AF and FV systems, but I’ve still never really succeeded in solving this problem with them.
- The positive reason is that a “No List” system has a remarkable effect on one’s mind, creativity and motivation.
A “catch all” to do list typically gets longer and longer, and even if it does level off it will still contain considerably more work than can be done in a day. The person using the list will typically lack focus and will not be progressing anything like as fast or as consistently as they would wish. This type of list may produce an illusion of work being done because a large number of tasks get actioned, but frequently all that’s really happening is that a lot of trivia is getting processed . As I say in the book, the ever-expanding list “refers to a never-never land where you magically get time to do all this work”
By contrast, the person working a “no list” system will quickly find that they quickly get into a routine. This routine can be consciously altered so that it works better and better, thus getting the routine work out of the way quickly. This then leaves more time for the important work. The “no list” user finds it easier to concentrate on a few key projects at a time, rather than diffuse their effort across multiple projects of varying importance.
So in the one case the result is haphazard working coupled with diffuse focus and intermittent effort. In the other case the result is stable work routines coupled with concentrated effort on the key priorities. Which to go for?