Imagine this: You just finish with one of the busiest days that you’ve had all month. You studiously write all of your outstanding tasks neatly on lined paper so you won’t forget what you need to accomplish tomorrow, then you pack up and head out. The next morning you sit at your desk, pull out your list of action items and. . . instant paralysis.
It is great to write tasks down as soon as you get them, but what happens next? Without a method to determine when or how a task should be fulfilled, it is impossible to reach your full productivity potential.
Photo by Amir K.
Task Lists Only Tell You What Needs to be Done
When you break out a simple list of action items, all it tells you is that you need to finish them at some point in time. The list does not tell you how long it will take to complete the task, when you need to complete the task, or help you to determine the steps necessary to fulfill the action’s true requirements.
Having a framework (i.e. GTD, or Autofocus™) helps you to determine not just what needs to be done, but also how and when it needs to be finished. These factors remove a lot of stress that is often hidden in your subconscious that can profoundly affect your ability to work.
Task Lists Don’t Prioritize
“Complete cover sheet for my TPS reports” does not indicate when the task needs to be done, or how critical a task is to an active project. The ability to prioritize tasks is critical! The problem is, effectively prioritizing tasks on a simple to-do list is next to impossible to accomplish (See Autofocus™ for a good solution to this).
Simple Lists Can’t Determine Next Actions
The big secret to getting something done is to list the steps that are needed to fulfill the project. Simple lists merely hold tasks, and the framework of a simple list typically breaks down as soon as you try and create too many subtasks. In other words, unless you have a separate task list for every project that you need to complete (projects are typically tasks that require two-or-more steps to complete) you are going to have a heck of a time keeping track of what needs to be done next. (See GTD for a good solution to this)
Tasks Lists, for the Most Part, Suck (At Least for Guys)
The only people that are able to utilize simple task lists with relative success are women. I am not sure why that is. I guess they are just wired in a way that they can prioritize and relate tasks without needing a framework. It shouldn’t be surprising though, the majority of productivity literature that is popular today were written by men, and seem to be targeted at men. In other words, men have a harder time managing tasks than women do. Women, for the most part, have a natural inclination toward organization that men seem to lack.
Don’t just rely on a task list in order to get things done. Find a framework that works for you, or develop your own. If you have a framework that can determine the next action that needs to be taken, its prioty, and how important it is, you will be well on your way to being more productive.
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