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To-Do Lists Are Not Effective: Here’s What Works

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I like the idea of replacing to-do lists with scheduling in a calendar:

“Scheduling,” says Cal Newport, “forces you to confront the reality of how much time you actually have and how long things will take.”

It’s really easy to add things to a to-do list. Because it’s so simple, these lists tend to grow and grow. Even worse they encourage us to say yes to almost everything because, well, we can just add it to our list. This means we’re not discriminating and we’re not as conscious about controlling our time as we should be.

As Steve Jobs said, it’s easy to say yes but the real value comes from saying no. Warren Buffett agrees: “You’ve got to keep control of your time, and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.”

Most people have the default of saying yes to everything. Personal relationships aside, the default should be no.

When you schedule things, you are forced to deal with the fact that there are only so many hours in a week. You’re forced to make choices rather than add something to a never ending to-do list that only becomes a source of anxiety. And you can’t just schedule important work and creative stuff.

You need to schedule time for rest and recovery and mundane things like email. Scheduling things also creates a visual feedback mechanism for how you actually spend your time — something we’re intentionally blind to because we won’t like what we see.

Just as important you need to think about your energy levels and when you schedule these tasks.

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