The Problem With To-Do Lists

Your to-do list isn’t helping you accomplish your tasks. I know, your to-do list is your daily roadmap of what you need/want to accomplish, but it’s actually working against you. There’s a better way to manage your day. Schedule the tasks you want to accomplish on your calendar.

What’s wrong with to-do lists

It’s easy to add things to a to-do list so you don’t forget them. But it’s too common that we keep adding stuff to our list and we never get to the end. When we start our day with a super long list of things we need to do we are sabotaging ourselves. If I have 20 things on my to-do list, I already know I won’t get them all done today. So I start doing small tasks for the instant gratification of checking a bunch of stuff off of my list.

Sure I want to complete those tasks, but not if it’s keeping me from important projects. It is human nature to go for the immediate psychological payoff and dopamine hit that comes from checking items off of that list. Have you ever added items to your list after they are done just to check them off the list? So we complete the tasks that are the fastest, and at the end of the day, we find we didn’t finish our most important tasks.

Prioritize your to-do list

Prioritizing the list probably won’t help either. When our list has multiple priorities we try to take care of the items with the highest priority first. This works at first glance, but those low-priority tasks remain. They stay low priority until their urgency moves them to a higher priority. If your car needs new tires would you rather take care of it when it’s a low priority or wait till you have a blowout on the freeway in rush hour?

In addition to finding the tasks that take the least amount of time, human nature will also push us to the tasks that we consider to be more pleasant rather than the ones that are most important or most difficult. So while your to-do lists are a great way to remember all the tasks you want to accomplish. They are terrible at actually accomplishing them.

Create a block schedule

A better way to complete the most important tasks is to create a block schedule where you block out time to do specific things. Most of us are far more productive at certain times of the day. I find that the first 3–4 hours of my day are my most productive, for you, that time may be mid-afternoon or whenever. So, take your to-do list and estimate how long each task will take to complete. Next, prioritize each item. Then start to put those tasks onto your calendar. Allow some flex time between tasks for unexpected interruptions.

Mapping every task onto your calendar would be time-consuming and counterproductive. A better way to schedule tasks is to create blocks of time for specific functions. For example, I find that writing in the morning when my mind is fresh works best for me. So I schedule a block of one hour at 9:00 to write. I don’t have to be specific about what I write, it could be a blog post, work on a book, a proposal, etc. I’ve just created a time when I can focus on writing when I am going to be most productive.

Next take another look at your to-do list and group them into broader categories and map those groups to blocks on your calendar. Don’t forget to block time for routine tasks that aren’t on your to-do list like answering email, reading and leisure activities and allow time for unexpected emergencies.

Combine your to-do list and your calendar into a platform to get more done. Your productivty will soar and you’ll get more important things done too.

Originally published at on June 24, 2021.




I help new companies build and manage a sales organization that will deliver results.

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Michael Dalfonzo

Michael Dalfonzo

I help new companies build and manage a sales organization that will deliver results.

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