Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

The Good and Bad of the To-do List

There seem to be two very strong views of the humble to-do list:

  • It’s the cornerstone of productivity
  • It’s a curse

My view lies somewhere in between. A to-do list can be useful, but it can also be a crutch. And a to-do list can be a source of stress and frustration —it can pack too much, and be daunting in the extreme. You start doubting whether you’ll be able to finish all of the tasks on the list while at the same time you’re adding more to the list.

For me, a to-do list is less a long list of tasks that I need to slog through and more of a fluid reminder of what the tasks that I need to complete on a given day. A to-do list is a prompt, not a prescription.

As I’ve pointed out many times, a to-do list should be compact. It should be focused. It should be for a single day and only contain three or four tasks that you will definitely be able to undertake that day.

On top of that, a to-do list should be fluid. If you don’t finish a task or two, don’t let that stress you out. Instead, shift the tasks you couldn’t tackle to the next day.

Your to-do list should be a guide, a prompt. Don’t let it grow out of control. And don’t let it become a source of stress. You need to control it, not the other way around.

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