Most people reading this will have a to-do program, or a paper list or text file, listing not only projects and tasks but separate lists for home and work and possibly half a dozen different contexts.
Those who don’t have a to-do list probably feel they should, because they’re swamped and feeling overwhelmed.
I’m here to suggest: kill your to-do list.
It sucks up your time, and drains your motivation. Those who have to-do lists usually manage them constantly, or if they don’t they fall into disuse and get dusty and become worthless, while the person who’s fallen behind in maintaining the list feels constantly guilty. For those who keep up with the lists, they spend a lot of time on the lists they could be spending … doing something important.
And what of these lists? They’re long, you never get to the end of them, and half the time the tasks on the list never get done. While it feels good to check items off the list, it feels horrible having items that never get checked off. This is all useless spending of mental energy, because none of it gets you anywhere.
The only thing that matters is the actual doing.
So what’s a better system?
The One Thing System
Here’s what I do, and highly recommend to anyone willing to break free of the to-do list:
- I wake up in the morning, and decide what One Thing I’m excited about.
- Then I focus on doing that, pushing everything else aside, clearing distractions, and allowing myself to get caught up in the moment.
I don’t worry what else is on my list, because there’s only One Thing on my list. I don’t have to check anything off, because I don’t actually have a list. I don’t have to worry about things not getting done, because I do the only thing I want to do — if I didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t be my One Thing.
If I happen to finish my One Thing early, I can slack off for the rest of the day (my favorite strategy), or I can pick my next One Thing.
But … but …
What about the other things you need to do? What if you forget them?
Make a list of possible things to do, if you like, or routine tasks that need to get done for one reason or another. I would consider eliminating as many things as possible on the routine list, as they tend to just be friction that stops you from doing what you really want to do. If you do make a list, don’t consider it a to-do list, of things you need to check off. Just keep it as a reminder, and don’t spend any time other than adding things to it and possibly checking it once a day.
Even this list isn’t necessary, but I only suggest it here for those who don’t feel safe without it. If you really don’t want to forget something, you can put a reminder on your calendar. I suggest avoiding this when possible, but if I need to send out payments once a month, I’ll put a reminder on my calendar. It’s not that complicated.
For the important things, you tend to know what you really want to get done. If you’re a writer, you know what you want to write, usually. If you’re a designer, you already have an idea of what you’re excited about working on. You don’t need a list. You just need to forget about the list, and get working.
Kill your to-do list, and forget about all the things you need to do … except the One Thing you’re passionate about, right now.
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Read more about simple productivity, focus and getting great things done in my book, The Power of Less.