How To Use To-Do Lists To Kill Your Productivity

How To Use To-Do Lists To Kill Your Productivity

Do you ever make a to-do list and find that you’re hardly completing any of it? Perhaps you’re just not crafting your to-do list properly. Kathleen McGowan, writing for Psychology Today, argues that there’s a right way and a wrong way to create your to-do lists. Here’s why.

What’s the wrong way? To look at your to-do list as an actual achievement. It’s not. Making lists feels like an accomplishment because you’ve actually done something, but in some ways it’s just a means of procrastination. You’re putting off work by creating a list of things you need to do. Unless that list actually helps you get work done, you’re simply procrastinating.

What’s the right way? McGowan explains:

Break it down. In order to make it easier to begin working on big, intimidating tasks, efficiency experts suggest breaking it down into much smaller parts composed of specific, tangible activities. Research has shown that tasks that don’t have an obvious action plan or structure are the hardest ones to face. Make it easier on yourself by listing specific actions and subgoals. Your to-do list will get much longer but, paradoxically, will be a much more helpful tool.

McGowan also suggests that putting together a flow chart and writing down distractions so you can deal with them later are other ways to help keep you on task and actually stick to that list.

Got any tips for more effective to-do lists? Let’s hear ’em in the comments!

Is the To-Do List Doing You In? [Psychology Today]


  • I use a model that i developed many years ago.
    It basically uses a Management by Objectives (MBO) appraoch.

    Each item on the to-do list is put through the process, and given a quick 5 minute review to determine its level of importance. Once I know that then I can put it through what I call the RAPIER model to determine how I am going to approach it.

    Each of the items now has a road map of how it needs to be resolved.

    So an issue like this is dealt with as follows:
    MBO Approach
    Issue: Need to reply to Lifehacker Post by Adam Dachis
    Aim: Write a reply to Adam Dachis
    Within 1 hour, at a cost of 10 minutes labour, write a response to Adam Dachis, explaining my method to make greater use of to-do-lists

    RAPIER Analysis
    1. Research
    Read the article
    2. Analysis
    Follows basically my approach, but I want to share how I solve these issues too
    3. Planning
    Plan what I want to say regarding the MBO Approach and RAPIER models.
    4. Implementation
    Write the response sharing the MBO Approach and RAPIER models.
    5. Evaluation
    Follow the article and responses in a copue of days (Monday) to see if there is anything I can add.
    6. Recommendations
    For self: Review the responses to see if this has been of use to others. Rate the value according to the number of questions (more means it was unclear but lots of interest), number of statements of support (more means this is of value to others), etc…
    For self: Analyse results and see what can be done better next time?

    Admittedly this is a narrow focus example. But you can see how you can quickly you can organise a to-do list, prioritise it, and plan what you need to do to get it done, whether it was of any value and reflect on the process to determine the next steps.
    Obviously if your to-do list is simpler than mine then you can pick and use the parts you need to get it done.

    Hope this helps someone.

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