eddology • by edd dumbill

It’s the first working day of the New Year. Armed with resolutions to be more organized, many of us are sprucing up our obligations in to-do list managers. This is great. But don’t mistake checking things off a list for doing meaningful things.

Todoist screenshotI use the wonderful Todoist for managing my lists of things to do, but I was disturbed to see that it listed my report card of items completed listed as “productivity”. They’re not the same thing.

How you view your to-do list, or other self-management method, is vital. If you view it in the wrong way, resentment grows, and it stops being a tool and becomes more of a jailer. And ultimately, you give it up and there goes another good resolution!

Here are some traps with to-do lists:

  • To-do lists can rapidly become “haven’t done” lists and a source of guilt. Between when you write things down and when real life happens, priorities change. Prune your lists and accept that everything changes.
  • It’s hard to itemize creativity and deep thought. Not all tasks are created equal. Lists can be very suited to shallow work, but not the things that really make you feel productive.
  • It’s easy to put yourself last. When writing a list, what tends to come to mind is a list of obligations you have to others. Before long, you resent your lists and probably stop using them. Don’t let other people drive your day: turn it around and use a to-do list as a tool of your own agency. This is why it’s a great idea to drive your day from your list, not your email inbox. It puts you in control of what goes in there.

Perhaps the best formulation I’ve seen of “productivity” methods is that they’re a tool for managing attention. Remember that tools should work for us, not the other way around!

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