I am going to boycott to-do lists. Will you join me? I have seen their use get in the way of managerial contribution and impact. To-do lists bother me because:
1. I know many managers who spend too much of their precious time CREATING to-do lists — sometimes with several going at once and in different formats. That time could be put to better use.
2. The concept of managerial work as a list of tasks goes against my philosophy of what great management looks like. Exceptional managers make things happen that would not have happened without their intervention — in other words they make stuff happen that is NOT on a list. If managers create and continually refer to a list, will they ever get to the really great work?
3. To-do lists can now be recorded, input to a PDA, or managers can transfer back and forth between paper and computerized lists. There are to-do lists (parading as planners, binders, tablets, project programs and such) in hundreds of sizes, shapes, and platforms. With all these advances, one would expect productivity gains, right? The managers I know are busier than ever in spite of these advances in personal task planning. Perhaps we are more willing to cram our days full of tasks when we use these snappy tools?
4. I am also troubled by to-do list programs that allow managers to check off completed tasks and track their productivity based on x´s in boxes. This type of system is more likely to reward a manager for doing 10 worthless tasks than to measure a manager´s impact on the business.
5. I know of many great managers who do not rely on to-do lists and lots of mediocre managers who live and die by their lists. Chicken and the egg? Cause and effect? Do to-do lists cause managers to make poor decisions about how to spend time even though the intent is the opposite? Or have great managers learned over the years that creating and using to-do lists is a waste of time and abandoned the practice?
I will acknowledge that we have deadlines and factual bits of information to keep track of and the workweek might be a bit chaotic without calendars (chaos can be good). That being said, I think it is high time we put our to-do lists in the closet with the microwave popcorn popper and magic weight loss pills. Deep down, and despite our hopes to the contrary, we know they don´t work.
I have created the following mantra to ease any to-do list withdrawal you may experience:
I do not need my to-do list. Abandoning my list does not make me a bad person. I can and will have greater impact by spending time on work that helps my team and function progress. I do not need a list to identify how to spend my time; in fact, a list will only get in the way of my best work.
Repeat as necessary.