Productivity and GTD

Why Your To-Do Lists Are Not Effective

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“Being organized means nothing more or less than where something is matches what it means to you.” ~ David Allen
To do list

The first thing people do when they feel overwhelmed because their life, their job or both, are turning chaotic, is making lists.

You make a list with all the tasks from work you have pending so you don’t have more problems with your boss. You make a list with all those groceries you need from the supermarket so you don’t forget them any more. You write down in your calendar (which is nothing but another list) all the events, birthdays and anniversaries related to those you care to avoid any awkward situations.

And that’s it! This is the highest level of personal organization to most people: an incomplete list of pending tasks to do and a calendar, plus some other support lists (contacts, groceries, etc.) The lowest level, also very common, consists in simply having everything in their mind. My dad doesn’t even keep phone numbers in the phone contact list, he knows them by heart and types them every time! But oh well, this is a special case…

When we start making lists we realize that they don’t solve that much. Suddenly, you realize that you’ve got many tasks to do and you feel much or more overwhelmed that when you didn’t see them but knew they were there. Now you have a list that grows constantly, that you don’t know how to prioritize and that contains a mixture of elements from different nature. You insist on establishing priorities in the same list, arranging and rearranging its elements again and again. It’s frustrating!

And the thing is that you are not misguided, because in reality, all you need to be organized are lists, which can be written down on paper, physical folders holding documents, or items sorted in the proper software.

Lists allow you to write down reminders, save things that you would like to do someday, track your projects, etc. To sum up, lists are the tools that allow you to have an inventory of all those things on which you have acquired, in one way or another, the commitment of doing them.

However, in order for lists to function, two things must happen:

  1. You must have the correct lists, with very clear limits amongst them, so that each list can only have one kind of elements, without ambiguities. The key of any good organization is that each thing is in the place it belongs to.
  2. You must have a system to effectively manage your lists. If you don’t put each thing in its place at the right moment, or you have your lists incomplete or outdated, then they stop being functional. They become useless.

GTD provides you with a structure that includes the ideal set of lists and the necessary procedures to properly manage them. When you have the adequate lists and updated information in each and one of them, then you are organized. And when you are truly organized, prioritizing is easy, nearly intuitive.

2 comments

B85a7646a52dbb7743953d7e9e99155b
Commented almost 2 years ago Yvonne McQuarrie

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the efficient use of to-do lists, Francisco! I completely agree with you; those lists should be properly composed and managed. Also, I believe when you put some marks or arrange the list according to the priority levels, such way is able to help you obtain work-life balance and increase productivity. Thanks again for sharing!

P.S. Your dad's a hero :) Wish I had such a good memory and stopped taking little notes on my hands with a pen!

B85a7646a52dbb7743953d7e9e99155b Yvonne McQuarrie

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the efficient use of to-do lists, Francisco! I completely agree with you; those lists should be properly composed and managed. Also, I believe when you put some marks or arrange the list according to the priority levels, such way is able to help you obtain work-life balance and increase productivity. Thanks again for sharing!

P.S. Your dad's a hero :) Wish I had such a good memory and stopped taking little notes on my hands with a pen!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented almost 2 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Yvonne,

Glad you found it useful. Thanks for your comment!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Yvonne,

Glad you found it useful. Thanks for your comment!

Posts are closed to new comments after 30 days.

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