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How to Complete Your To-Do List

How to Complete Your To-Do List

Conquer your to-do lists

Vicki Santillano | DivineCaroline

September 09, 2010

You rank tasks by priority.
This one surprised me, since I assumed that designating importance to each item helps you run through a list more efficiently. But some time-management experts argue that just putting something on your list should make it an automatic priority. On his blog, Get Everything Done, Mark Forster, the author of guidebooks like Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, advises against grading. “First rule of time management: the question is not what priority something is, but whether it needs doing at all,” he writes. Stipulating that what’s added to a to-do list has immediate importance achieves two things: it eliminates adding tasks just for the sake of having something to cross off (like when I wrote, “Buy gum from Walgreens” on my list yesterday), and it gives what makes the cut even more emphasis.

You use to-do lists to feel good about yourself.
’Fess up: having a sizable number of responsibilities on your plate makes you feel pretty awesome and important. Don’t be embarrassed; why else do you think I put “Buy gum” on my list? Not only does it look like you’ve got a lot going on, but it also means you then get to cross more things off your list and pretend that you’re a productivity machine. In the spirit of confession, I’ll even admit to adding jobs to to-do lists that I’ve already finished, just so that I know for sure that something will be crossed off by the end of the day. That’s a defeatist attitude right off the bat. Some people also put items on a to-do list that they should complete but know they probably won’t, such as calling or emailing people back in a timely fashion. Writing it down can ease the guilt of not doing it in the first place, as if the thought, not the attempt, is what counts. But since the neglected person isn’t going to see the list, the effort—or lack thereof—is especially disadvantageous.

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