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Do Successful People Really Use To-Do Lists?


Many professionals feel that they couldn’t live without their to-do lists. But, others feel they are an utter waste of time. Who has the extra minutes to spend planning out the order of operations when there are so many pressing issues that need to be attended to right away? to do list tatoo

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The question becomes: Do successful people really use to-do lists?

Kevin Kruse of Forbes recently wrote a piece about this topic, explaining that in his experience (experience that’s involved interviewing more than 200 billionaires, Olympians, and other highly successful types) he’s never heard even one mention of to-do lists when discussions of productivity were introduced.

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So, what’s the trouble with lists?

1. To-do lists take a lot of time to create and revise.

Busy people don’t have the time to give away to organizing a to-do list. They hit the ground running at the beginning of the day and keep up a steady pace as the hours tick on. Plus, new “to-dos” are introduced throughout the day. Could a list really be flexible enough to support so many shifts in action items? What about fires that need putting out – how are they worked in to a classic to-do list? Many successful people find they are better off not even trying to organize their ideas in this way. They’d rather just get going with attending to the issues and tasks at hand.

2. Seeing all of their to-dos on a list makes successful people feel stressed out.

When you have 20, 30, or even 50 different things that you’d like to do, a to-do list can be pretty overwhelming. Sure, if you can pair down your tasks to less than a dozen, a list of priorities should serve you well. But, for busy people with a ton of responsibilities, the list is rarely so short. Having to face a never-ending list of things that need doing doesn’t squash stress – it adds to it. Perhaps avoiding the enumeration of seemingly everlasting to-dos is a better way to go.

3. To do lists encourage focus on the details, not the big picture.

To world of a to-do list is a choppy, segmented, detail-oriented scene, and it doesn’t get at the big-picture ideas that successful people use to guide them through their days. Many prefer a more unified approach to looking at their goals and plans. They focus on big picture concepts, and allow the details to reconcile along the way without letting them become the primary motivation for action.

So, what do successful people use instead of to do lists?

According to Kruse, successful folks utilize calendars to help them plan their days – often down to the minute.

Shannon Miller, seven time Olympic medalist agrees:

“During training, I balanced family time, chores, schoolwork, Olympic training, appearances, and other obligations by outlining a very specific schedule,” she said. “I was forced to prioritize. To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute to minute.”

Tell Us What You Think

How do you organize your schedule and priorities? How do you feel about using a to do list? What can be done to fix the problem? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Trish Mac
Trish Mac

I think there is a way to use lists, and still be a good, or even great, leader. There are often tasks that must be done – whether they are professionally or personally generated – and this is where the list comes into play. I “do list” so I can actually have some strategic thinking time and to be able to take advantage of those leadership moments that just seem to happen unannounced. So, let’s not throw out the list… Read more »

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