Nooooo: If Your To-Do List Looks Like This, You May Be Sabotaging Yourself

Calling all grocery list-length to-do-list writers.

The other day, I was listening to a podcast where one of the hosts mentioned that she so relies on Google Maps that when her phone died a few days earlier, she’d been forced to no-show for a meeting because she didn’t know how she would possibly get to the meeting location without Google Maps telling her where to turn left and right. She went home to charge her phone instead.

Yes, if you are shaking your head at this anecdote and saying, “UGH, kids these days,” I’m with you.

But still, this story reminded me of myself. Not in that I can’t get anywhere without Google Maps (I mean, I probably can’t, but I’ve never been tested), but in that I can’t get anywhere in my day without my to-do list. My daily to-do list — detailed enough to have steps like “eat rice bowl for lunch at 12 p.m.” and “ask (insert co-worker’s name here) where she got her boots before you leave,” each step triumphantly crossed-out with red pen once it’s been completed — is like my roadmap for the day. Like the podcast host who could get nowhere without Google Maps, I might as well be in Siberia without my daily to-do list.

But as the folks over at Science of Us note, by relying on such a detailed to-do list, I may actually be sabotaging myself. NOOOOOOO.

They refer to research that found, despite what one would think, that people actually performed better when instead of relying on super-detailed daily to-do lists, they made overarching to-do lists for the month, with a focus on broader goals instead of the minute day-to-day stuff. The researchers found that super-structured daily to-lists were actually “catastrophically demotivating, while the monthly plans work very nicely.” The reasoning is that when you get too detailed, you don’t leave any room for the unexpected tasks that arise. So then, when those inevitably come up, you can get entirely thrown off course.

This idea of jotting down big goals for the month is also one of the steps in Bullet Journaling, the outrageously popular journaling trend that sparked the Instagram hashtag #bulletjournal. And I get how it can be beneficial. But still, the thought of wholly abandoning a step-by-step outline of my day is enough to cover my whole body in hives. I’d never actually considered that people lived their lives any other way than by adhering to a strict to-do list. Go ahead, call me type A. I won’t argue.

So now, I’m curious about how the other world lives. What does your to-do list look like?

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