To Do Lists Generally Hold People Back

by Michael Simmons on Jun 19, 2010

If we had all the time in the world, to do lists would be the perfect time management tool.

For the better or worse, we only have 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, and around 70-80 years to live.

Furthermore, we consistently and drastically over-estimate what can be done in a given time period, because we don’t account for randomness and having less than 100% productivity.

With only a to do list and no accountability system, many people default to what is most urgent or what they want to do. This doesn’t create the best results.

A to do list is step 1 of 4.

Step 2 is dividing the to do list into what MUST get done and what is on the CRITICAL PATH to your most important goals. When creating MUST goals, it is important to be disciplined about not including would-be-nice goals. When creating CRITICAL PATH goals, one must work backwards from a general life vision, to specific goals, to specific actions that can be taken today that will most directly lead to the goals.

Step 3 is prioritizing the MUST and CRITCAL PATH action items and making more tough decisions about what you won’t have time to do. Realistically, you probably won’t be able to get all of them done as quickly as you’d hope, so having them prioritized helps you focus on the most important ones first.

Step 4 is scheduling and taking action on what’s most important first. Most people need some sort of accountability system to make this happen. A basic system includes sharing the actions with someone supportive and attaching a consequence to uncompleted actions and a reward to completed ones.


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I'm the co-founder of Empact, one of the leading entrepreneurship education organizations in the world. I'm obsessed with understanding how we all can lead meaningful lives that have a positive social impact. I love probing into the truth of how we experience life. I believe that challenges are what make us grow the most, and I openly share my experiences. Continue reading…