Last week, a friend shared a problem he had been having with his productivity. Every morning at work, he would look at his to-do list. It contained every task he had identified as needing to get done before the end of the day. However, he could never seem to get started on those tasks because in his own words, “There were just too many of them.” We had an insightful conversation and his problem got me thinking perhaps there are other people out there who have the same problem. With his blessing, I have decided to make this week’s post about the solution he and I decided he could try.
Let me quickly begin by pointing out discarding your to-do list is generally not a good idea for your productivity. I live by them. They are easy to build, make it easy to remember and are good for tracking progress. However, by my friend’s experience, it is possible to have too many items on your to-do list (I took a look at one of his daily lists and it had 15 tasks).
I also do not recommend having separate to-do lists for work and personal life. There is always some degree of overlap between the two. Your child is not going to conveniently wait for you to clock out and get home before they fall sick. Having to keep track of two or more lists also leads to more complexity. For someone, who already feels overwhelmed, complexity is not likely to help with his procrastination.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.Leonardo Da Vinci
Instead, I advised my friend to return to a basic idea. Each morning, he should decide the three most important tasks he NEEDS to complete that day and add them to his list. For the rest of the day, he should focus on only those tasks. No new tasks should be added until after those tasks have been completed.
I chose 3 tasks because the number has some very useful properties. It’s small enough for most people to handle without feeling overwhelmed. The human brain also has a tendency to group things into clusters of 3 such as 777-632-985. That’s easier to remember than 777632985. By limiting himself to 3 tasks, he is also more likely to pick those 3 tasks that are most likely to add value to his day.
If you also struggle with a to-do list that seems to grow longer each day, perhaps you’d like to try my suggestion and share your thoughts in the comment section. I intend to ask my friend if his productivity has improved next month.