Do you really think that the people in the world who have to be the most time-efficient, and juggle more than we could ever wrap our heads around, use to-do lists? Kevin Kruse, who writes about whole-hearted leadership and researches time management and productivity, interviewed over 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students and entrepreneurs. He asked them to give him their best time-management and productivity advice. And none of them ever mentioned a to-do list.
There are three big problems with a straightforward to-do list. Firstly, a to-do list does not account for time. If you have a long list of tasks, you tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly in a few minutes, leaving the longer items left not done. You want to tick items off to feel good, to feel like you have achieved. Fair enough, but have you actually nailed what needs doing?
Kruse found research from the company iDoneThis indicated that 41 per cent of all to-do list items are never completed. And when I wrote Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, I found that this bothers more women (and possibly men; although I didn’t survey men) than it does not. And if a to-do list with items that are not all crossed-off does bother you, this is a sure-fire way to make stress hormones. And as you now know, this can be a fast and furious road to poor health and fatigue.
Secondly, a to-do list does not distinguish between which tasks are the most urgent and important. Once again, our impulse is to fight the urgent and ignore the important. For example, how many people put off having medical tests that are actually extremely important? Or going for a walk, because you would have to have your head buried in the sand for your whole life to not know that moving your body is critical to your health, energy and longevity. Let’s face it, if exercise were a pill we’d all be taking it. A colonoscopy and a walk may be in different leagues, but they might just be incredibly important, yet most people put them off.
Thirdly, to-do lists contribute to stress. In what is known in psychology as the “Zeigarnik effect”, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts. It’s no wonder so many people feel so overwhelmed in the day, and then fight insomnia at night.
When you explore time-management research, including Kruse’s, one consistent theme keeps coming up: highly productive people do not work from a to-do list — they live and work from their calendar.
When you have a huge number of tasks that need completing in a day and/or you have other people relying on you, the only way the ultra-busy can pull it all off is to prioritise and keep a schedule that for some of them is almost minute-by-minute.
Other people in the time-management research, when asked to reveal their secret for getting so much done, included: “If it’s not in my calendar, it won’t get done. But if it is in my calendar, it will get done. I schedule out every 15 minutes of every day to conduct meetings, review materials, write and do any activities I need to get done. And while I take meetings with just about anyone who wants to meet with me, I reserve just one hour a week for these ‘office hours’.” Another quote was: “I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. Thirty minutes of social media – on the schedule. Forty-five minutes of email management – on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team – on the schedule.”
The bottom line on much of what I read was as obvious as this: if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done. So here are some suggestions from all I read if you feel that your biggest health- and energy-zapper is a sense of being overwhelmed and having poor time management – a constant case of the feeling that there are not enough hours in the day. The ideas won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, as I know that scheduling every last thing can feel tedious and creativity-killing. It can also feel like there will be a great big lack of spontaneity in your life if you embrace such an existence. And I personally get that. The only thing is, if you want to feel more spaciousness in your life, try scheduling even three days out of seven and see how that creates a far more spacious headspace for creativity and innovation to flow. Many people who initially resist scheduling, due to the perceived lack of creativity it will allow, find that they become more creative, plus they are more present with what they are doing. When you are playing with your children, how often do you think about everything that’s not done? Yet if you think of this while playing and it is scheduled, you can relax knowing that the time will come to do that task, allowing you to be more present with the playing.
For some of you, scheduling every day will end your to-do list, you’ll get more done, and the energy-zapping stress will lessen as you have a sense that you are handling what’s on your plate.
Here are 3 tips from some heart-centred entrepreneurs, who also happen to be some of the busiest people, making such a difference in the world!
- Time-management research results suggest that you make the default event duration in your calendar 15 minutes. Most systems automatically schedule new events for 30 or 60 minutes’ duration. Highly productive people only spend as much time as is necessary for each task. When your default setting is 15 minutes, you will automatically discover that you can fit more tasks into each day
- Try time-blocking the most important things in your life, first. Don’t let your calendar fill up randomly by accepting every request that comes your way. First, get clear on your personal and work priorities and pre-schedule sacred time-blocks for these items. That might include two hours each morning to work on the strategic plan your boss asked you for, or 20 minutes of time for meditation every morning. Mark your calendar to include time-blocks for things like exercise, a date night or other items that align with your core life values
- Time-management principles suggest that you schedule everything. Instead of checking emails every few minutes, schedule three times a day to do this. Instead of writing “call Sarah” on your to-do list, put it on your calendar or establish a recurring time-block each afternoon to “return phone calls”.
What is scheduled actually gets done. Would you feel less stressed and more productive if you could rip up your to-do list and work from your calendar instead?
Dr Libby Weaver is one of Australasia’s leading nutritional biochemists, a seven- time number one bestselling author and an international speaker.