Working Without a To-Do List Can Be Productive

Darshak Rana

I was always told that you couldn’t be productive without a to-do list, which I’ve found untrue. This may seem counterintuitive and counterproductive, but hear me out.

What if instead of focusing on getting things done, you concentrated on doing them well?

I used to be so productive with to-do lists initially. I had this perfect little formula for achieving everything on my plate, and it was glorious. But then the recipes changed, and soon I found myself with more than one task at hand. And the feeling of overwhelm came back in full force — that I avoided all work tasks altogether!

So, when my workday got off track, I decided to take away my planner and replace it with an old-school journal. As soon as I started sketching out my thoughts on paper, they seemed clearer than ever before! After all, you need your brain’s creative juices flowing to think of new ideas and come up with solutions.

A to-do list doesn’t account for everything that needs to get done in a day or week because unforeseen events or tasks come up unexpectedly. To-do lists only tell you what to do. Not how to do. That’s a big problem!

University of Scranton’s research suggests that only 8% of people achieve what they plan.

To-do lists could set you up for procrastination or excuses to get off task, depending on how resilient you are about succeeding with your goals. People who have high resilience find themselves able to overcome obstacles through to-do lists. I wasn’t one of them.

That’s why I worked on reinventing productivity through micro changes that helped me get the work done without overwhelming and anxiety.

Commit to only three tasks (give or take)

I had been in the same spot all day, and my phone buzzed with messages and alerts telling me to reply, like, or follow something.

Without even realizing it, my stress level went through the roof, and my chest tightened up as I felt overwhelmed by all these tasks on my plate.

As I looked at my list of tasks for the day, it seemed like there was no end until evening. Feeling trapped by these uncompleted objectives, I started thinking about what could be done differently to make this process easier when one idea popped into my mind: focus on three major tasks for today instead of getting everything done in one sitting.

I tried the formula for days and saw it working ver well. Not one time. Not two times. But most of the time.

If you look at your daily routine, you’ll find that you (can) accomplish no more than three tasks effectively.

So, if we deliberately minimize the tasks, it can make us feel in control and proactive about what is going on. It’s also possible that you accomplish more than three even if you have decided on doing only three.

Being productive comes from having clarity about what needs to be accomplished, so one does not tend to procrastinate or even give up altogether.

Create a “Got Done” List

I can’t believe that I was so productive today. It’s just 1:00 pm on a regular Wednesday, and all of my planned tasks are completed.

Task №1: Social media posts — check
Task №2: Writing one blogpost and editing a draft— check
Task №3: Sending out newsletters — check

Additional tasks/routine:

Ideation — check
Morning meditation — check
Spiritual study — check
Reading twenty pages — check
Calling Mom — check
Soaking chickpeas for dinner — check

I even found myself with time to spare!

I could write one and a half articles as I have the outline ready from my ideation process.

It happened because of this one simple change in how I schedule my day.

When planning for the day, instead of writing down everything that needs to get done or figuring out what order they should be done in, I just planned three tasks (already discussed above)and wrote them as “got done.”

It may sound silly, but it’s completely changed how much work gets done each day.

Putting your “got done” list on display not only gives you a sense of accomplishment when looking back at everything that was accomplished during the day, but if there are items crossed off and no action taken towards completion (or trying), it can serve as an effective wake-up call for self-reflection.

It goes to reason that if you can take a step back and look at what you did, you won’t get caught focusing on the negative sentiments of not having accomplished what you set out to do.

Productivity doesn’t mean doing more; it means feeling better to achieve more.

To-do lists invite overwhelm and procrastination because they list every single task rather than just three important tasks for your day.

And if we’re being honest here, even when people get their entire week of work on a sheet of paper in front of them with clear priorities, most people don’t follow through 100%.

The system is broken!

The key to being productive is not following tips and tricks but adopting the right approach and not doing much.

Recap for memory: 2 ways to get the work done without a to-do list

  1. Limit the number of tasks to 3 (give or take)
  2. Create a “got-done” list that wires your brain to achieve more than planned.

Have any ideas from today’s post resonated with you?

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