Too Many To Dos.....


by Fred Schippa - Managing Director, RISE Consulting Group, June 30, 2018

I am a list maker. I have always been a list maker, sometimes to ridiculous extremes. Once I had so many lists I needed to make a list of my lists, just to keep track of them all. When the Palm Pilot came to market in the late 90s, I bought one just so I could digitize my lists and I have never looked back. I currently have 375 tasks in Outlook, in eleven different categories. At the end of every work day, I review my lists and transfer onto a piece of paper the things I will work on when I start the next day. This is usually between four and ten things and I rarely complete them all. However, I get so much pleasure crossing them out as the day goes on. It may seem silly, but if something I wasn’t expecting comes up during the day that requires my immediate attention, I add it to my list. Even if it is after the fact and I write it down and cross it out at the same time. You may think all this is unnecessary and a waste of time, but there is a method to my madness. Over the years, I have found that keeping lists in this manner helps me in a number of different ways:

 It makes me more productive - Lists allow me to hit the ground running every morning, without needing to think and plan my day. I simply go to the first item on my list and get started. I’ve also found it helpful to lay out whatever I’ll need the night before, to get an even quicker start. As I move through my day, and complete tasks, there is far less lag time and things flow.

It allows for better prioritization - I am better able to prioritize things when I have written them down and compare them to other activities. This keeps me from getting distracted and derailed throughout the day, as other forces like email and texts compete for my attention.

It provides a sense of accomplishment - At the end of the day, I can look back and see all the things I completed and feel great about them. Rather than focus on items I didn’t get done, I celebrate those that were finished. Items I didn’t finish move to the top of tomorrow’s list.

It leads to less stress - This reduces the pressure and anxiety of having to remember ALL the things I need to do. Knowing everything I think of is captured somewhere I can get to is amazingly liberating.

For someone like me, who suffers from CLM (“Chronic List Making”), there are certain risks that need to be monitored, or what is an otherwise productive time-management tool, might become dysfunctional and debilitating. I had four reasons why list-making was a good idea. I am offering five cautions:

1. Overdependency – It is possible to become too dependent on lists, to the point where you actually have problems remembering anything without them. These days, if I need to go to the grocery store on the way home, I have learned to attempt to remember no more than four things without grabbing a post-it and making a list. I don’t want to risk getting home, only to find that I forgot the most important item and having to go back out again. There is a corollary to this involving people who become too dependent on their GPS, relying on it to tell them how to get to places they should be familiar with. They often miss a turn, while staring at their destination, because they were paralyzed waiting for the lovely British voice to tell them to “turn here”. 

2. Overwhelming – I honestly can’t remember a time when I finished everything on my “master list”. In fact, I don’t think I ever have, even between jobs. It’s like when I was in college and we would go out after a party to get some Tommy’s Burgers. They had a pot of chili on the stove, from which they would ladle the chili onto your triple-cheese burger. We would always ask for “mas gnarl”, which was code for throwing so much chili on the burger that it had to be served “in a boat”, meaning a paper tray that did very little to keep the chili from seeping through. If this ever got onto the upholstery of your car, forget about it! Sell the car because you WILL NEVER get the smell out. Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, the pot of chili never got emptied, or cleaned out. They just continued to add to it and it was on the stove 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you work for Tommy’s, please don’t sue me, I am merely speculating and basing my assumption on the collective experience of many college friends. Anyway, my list is never “finished”, I check some things off, and add more things to it. The list grows slowly over time. I try not to think about this phenomenon, or Tommy’s burgers, too often. 

3. Majoring in Minors – Once you start using a list, you may find yourself getting a little crazy about what you add to it. Random thoughts and minutia end up on your list to the extent that it grows and grows and grows. You can start to feel like the more you have on the list, the more organized and efficient you are. The problem is that the “noise” starts to drown out the really important things that are worthy of your time and energies. The 80/20 rule still applies. The top 20% of your tasks will have an 80% impact on what you are trying to accomplish in your life and your business. Also, as you consider the things that come up on your list, make sure to revisit whether or not they are still important or even relevant.  If you ever find a task that reads, “review tasks”, seek help.

4. Inhibits Creativity -  When you are totally fixated on working your list, it can discourage non-linear thinking, spontaneity, creativity and day-dreaming, which is when some of our best ideas and innovative solutions to problems originate. During the day, if something comes to you in the moment, you should spend a little time pondering it, even if it wasn’t part of your plan and on your list. If you don’t, you might miss something important. Be open to change and don’t forget to ask “Why” and “How” questions.

5. Out of Touch – This can be a big problem for me. When I am too focused on tasks or goals, I lose track of what is going on around me. Keeping our heads down may be the way to grind something out, but we need to look up too. This includes really listening to family, friends, co-workers and clients. If I am distracted when someone calls or only thinking about how this is stealing from my time, I risk losing focus on what is truly important; people. Everything we do is fundamentally about helping, loving, and serving others. If we tune everyone out, our priorities are seriously out of whack. Sometimes we need to put our lists down and prioritize other people and our relationships first.

I would love to write more on the subject, but I have several other things to get to today. 

Have a great month!!