Not having a to-do list frees you from the stress of needing to tick off every item on it. It allows room for uncertainty in your day. There can be surprises in spontaneity. There’s freedom in flexibility.
Did you know that a recent survey has found that only 17 percent of people can accurately estimate how much time an activity will require? The rest fall prey to the planning fallacy, or “positive bias,” which means they vastly underestimate the time it will take to complete a future task, despite the knowledge that previous tasks have generally taken longer than planned.
Thus, making a to-do list for the rest of the 83% people would be a surefire way to build unrealistic expectations and have them shattered at the end of the day.
Not having a to-do list can reduce those feelings of guilt that might be tugging at your heart for not completing your tasks on time.
Kevin Kruse, author of Great Leaders Have No Rules interviewed over 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students, and entrepreneurs, and found that most of them don’t use to-do lists for the following reasons:
- To-do lists don't account for time: When you have a long list of tasks, you tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly in a few minutes, leaving the longer items undone.
- To-do lists don’t distinguish between urgent and important.
- To-do lists contribute to stress: In what’s known in psychology as the Zeigarnik effect, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts.
So, if to-do lists don’t work for you, what can you do instead?
Strategize, Don’t List
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
To-do lists can be potential procrastination tools. They lull you into the satisfaction of having completed several tasks, thus making you blind to what actually needs to be done. As Ralph Ryback, M.D., explains in Psychology Today, “The satisfaction of ticking off small task is linked with a flood of dopamine. Each time your brain gets a whiff of this rewarding neurotransmitter, it will want you to repeat the associated behavior.”