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Ditch Your To-Do List and Be More Productive

Ditch Your To-Do List and Be More Productive
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Have you ever been a slave to your to-do list and were almost always frazzled at how colossal it had become, but still you couldn’t stop writing every little thing down? I used to picture my life spinning out of control without my to-do list, but in reality, it was spinning out of control because of my list. I needed a new, less cluttered, and more effective method, so I ditched the list.

Believe it or not, ditching your to-do list can actually free you up and make you even more productive. But how can you get more done if you don’t keep a list of what needs to be done? It’s simple: pay attention to the world, not a sheet of paper. Below are some of ways in which productivity can improve without the list and the advantages of post-to-do-list life:

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The Advantages of Ditching Your To-Do List

You Don’t Procrastinate

I always wondered how people who don’t use to-do lists remember all the tasks they need to complete if they aren’t reminded of them constantly. Then one day it hit me: people who don’t keep a to-do list get things done as they come up. They don’t put tasks off for later by writing them down; they see something that needs accomplishing and they just do it.

A to-do list is just an excuse to procrastinate. Instead of living with that excuse, ‘non-to-do-listers’ complete chores as they arise. If they see dirt, they clean it up. If they have a work assignment due, they work on it. If they think of someone they haven’t spoken with in a while, they call them. Because if they don’t do it then, they’ll forget it and it will never get done.

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You Don’t Stop When the List Stops

How rewarding it is when you’ve crossed out every item on your to-do list. There’s no better reason to sit back, relax, and reward yourself for having accomplished everything. In order to clear your list, you worked hard even after you hit the wall, and when you finished, you were completely beat. But it doesn’t have to be so exhausting. Don’t let the list dictate your life; if you have high energy, go out there and see what can be taken care of, and when you hit your wall, take a break and relax. You’ll eventually establish an even flow of productivity that keeps you churning out great work.

You’re More Perceptive

It happens to every to-do lister. We get so wrapped up in our list that we start writing things down we do regularly, like if we straighten our homes daily, we write “Clean” on the list. It feels like we’re cleaning every day, because we cross it out every day. But instead of being receptive to the world around us, we’re ignoring some of the bigger issues. If we think we’re already cleaning by simply straightening, we tend to let the more infrequent major scrubbing and dousing that needs attention go unnoticed.

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Don’t lose sight of what actually needs doing in order to fulfill what you think needs to be done. If you don’t keep a list, you’ll be more attentive to the world around you. Chores will call to you, and you’ll be able to listen.

No More Mocking

Once you’ve abandoned the list, the things that can’t be done or simply aren’t done won’t mock you. I had items on my list that were months away from being able to be completed, but there they were, every day, calling out to me from the little lined paper hanging on my refrigerator door. Once I let go of the list, I filled out my calendar to reflect the tasks in the future and finally felt the chains of the list lifted.

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It Allows for Spontaneity

Our days are dynamic, and so are our moods. Sometimes we’re just not in the mood to be completing chores all day, and we’d rather go to the beach or read a good book on the couch. Sometimes we just want to curl up in sweatpants and watch television until our heads feel numb. And that’s okay — that’s a part of living. Go with your intuition every once in a while. When you’re older, you’ll never regret the days you decided to travel, to surprise a family member, the day you tried something new, the long walks you took, or the times you relaxed in the sunshine. But you’ll certainly forget the days you spent slaving over your list of chores. So allow for those fluctuations of mood that take us to new places, those unexpected dips and bends that remind us life is much greater than the list.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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