Is Your To-Do List Killing You?

Well, another new year has started. And, as usual, many people tend to start talking about “resolutions” and “goals” again.

After 2 weeks, they usually stop.

I was going to write about a different type of goal-setting this time, one inspired by Seth Godin’s article about what he “shipped” in 2010. Basically, I was going to suggest extending this concept to make a list of what each of us would like to “ship” in 2011 (no, I’m not talking about your uncle’s cocaine stash here…).

By “ship”, I mean completing and releasing products and projects (such as an e-book, a blog, a website, a web comic, a web series, a music track, etc).

So I started writing up what I’d like to “ship in 2011″, thinking it would be a good motivator.

I finished it, and felt very proud of myself (for accomplishing nothing more than writing down what I wanted to accomplish…).

Then, in an act of defiance, I hurled the document into the sea. It sort of ended up looking like this

But seriously, I made one goal instead, and I recommend trying the same if you feel your to-do list (and other sorts of goal-oriented lists) is slowly killing you:

Stop making lists

I’ve spent the last 10 years using to-do lists, and you know what? I’m absolutely EXHAUSTED from them. It’s time to stop using them.

I understand that for some people starting a to-do list can be beneficial (especially if you happen to have chaotic organisational skills). To-do lists can certainly help focus and structure the insanity … for a while at least.

But if you’re already a pretty organised person with a good feeling of what’s important and why, then you don’t need a to-do list.

Why?

Oh, just ten reasons (which I will now, ironically, list…):

  1. Lists give the illusion of progress
  2. Lists give the illusion of accomplishment
  3. Lists make you feel guilty for not achieving these things
  4. Lists make you feel guilty for continually delaying certain items
  5. Lists make you feel guilty for not doing things you don’t want to be doing anyway
  6. Lists make you prioritise the wrong things
  7. Lists are inefficient (think of what you could do with all the time you spend maintaining your lists?)
  8. Lists suck the enjoyment out of activities, making most things feel like an obligation
  9. Lists don’t actually make you more organised long term
  10. Lists can close you off to spontaneity and exploration of things you didn’t plan for (let’s face it, it’s impossible to REALLY plan some things in life)

I probably should add one more reason … to-do lists are NEVER-ENDING.

So, what am I doing instead?

From now on, I’m giving myself permission to stop making to-do lists (or ANY lists involving any sort of goals).

Naturally, this probably raises several concerns and objections:

Surely I wouldn’t have done much the last 10 years without to-do lists?

Arguably I haven’t done much WITH them either!

But seriously, I think the major things I’ve done the last 10 years would have happened without to-do lists anyway. Why? Because the things I did were REALLY important to me, and I was excited about doing them.

If anything, the use of to-do lists for those things eventually made those important things feel more like chores than anything else. And that wasn’t fun.

But won’t I stop achieving things if I stop using lists now?

I don’t think so, for similar reasons to above. Giving to-do lists the credit of making me NOT become a lazy bum is a bit of a stretch.

The truth is that if something is REALLY important to me, it’s going to keep coming back to me until I do something about it. I don’t need to write down a “reminder” for that sort of goal.

For example, this year and beyond, I REALLY want to return to the world of entertainment. I want to write more (both articles and scripts), and I want to produce a web series.

Do I need to write that down to remind me to do that? No, because I feel driven to do it for the sheer excitement I have for it.

And yes, I realise that I have, technically, just written those “goals” down… but you get my point (and stop being such a smart-ass)!

How will I know what to do next?

I won’t.

I’m going to switch to starting each day by just doing what I feel like I want to do. That can be a bit scary and overwhelming initially, but eventually I believe I’ll get used to the sudden mental freedom.

For example, this morning I woke up early and felt the desire to sit down and pump out a whole lot of articles for this blog. I ended up writing a whole month’s worth of content – which is an absolute record for me in one 3-hour session.

There wasn’t a to-do list telling me to do any of this. I did it because I wanted to. If it had instead been a to-do item on a list, I’d probably put it off and beat myself up over doing so.

Approaching each day this way makes it much more exciting, because you never know what potential the day will hold. Opening up my days like this will open more opportunities to do things I wouldn’t otherwise get around to.

Won’t I forget important appointments and time-sensitive information/events?

It’s possible.

BUT I didn’t say I won’t be using a calendar! Of course I’ll put down any medical appointments or other important time-based events in my calendar.

But they’re fixed events, and the important thing is that I’m not dwelling on what’s in my calendar (unlike what was on my daily to-do list).

So…how’s this “no more to-do lists” thing going for me?

Well, I’ve just started recently, but so far I’ve been very happy with it. I’ll let you know how my little experiment goes this year! :)

At the very least, I will no longer feel like my endless to-do list is killing me! Perhaps you should give this method a try too.

About Adam Wozniak

Adam Wozniak is the founder and writer of Encouragement from a Stranger. He believes in the importance of encouraging people to think, question things, and live life on their own terms. Or something like that... – www.AdamWozniak.com