Using to-do lists alone won’t make you more productive

Published in: Productivity

I am a productive junkie for as long as I can remember. I started with simple text files written in notepad and slowly my obsession with to-do lists morphed into wanting to try almost every single to-do lists out there. Over the years after many failed attempts of switching from one to-do apps to another, I have made some discoveries about myself and my productivity process.

To-do lists won’t make you productive

To-do lists are tools to organize your thoughts so that you can start getting things done. I often found myself spending a stupendous amount of time fiddling with to-do lists and its many features, reading app reviews and best practices, organizing my lists with tags and breaking them down into days, weeks and months and setting up reminders and all those crazy stuff. Not so surprisingly I was not spending a lot of time getting stuff done. To me, the tool became more important than the intention. So after identifying this fault in my process I weened myself off all these apps and settled for only one to-do list app to get things done.

It was important that I use apps that have the least amount of junk features and visual distractions. Features that are important to me is limited to:

  • Sync among multiple devices
  • Clicking the check box removes it from the list
  • Inbox (where I can dump all my thoughts)
  • Categories / Folders
  • I am sure there many apps that fill this requirement but for me Wunderlist fit perfectly to my needs. It simply gets out of the way so that I can concentrate on things that are important to me, which is to get things done.

    Intention is more important than the tool

    The to-do list is just a tool to help you get things done. It won’t magically make you more productive because the only person who can make you more productive is yourself. So I think it’s more important to get your intentions and goals aligned with yourself before organizing them on your to-do list. I try to identify at most three things that are super important for me to finish in a day. It can be less than three items but not more than that. Then I have my general “also other things, but not so important” list of things I need to take care of. By bundling the important things with general things I used to dilute the importance of major tasks with minor tasks and I would often find myself spending more time and resources getting the minor things done because they are easier to get them out of the way. Instead, what I should be doing is get the major things out of the way so that I can take on the minor things in my free time. So once I aligned my intentions with myself and what’s important for me, getting the important things done on my to-do lists became much easier.

    Of course, everyone is unique and their thought process works differently. But I think if you can filter the noise out of your to-do lists you will be much more productive and start seeing to-do apps for what it is, a tool not a process.

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