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The Death of my ToDo List
I've removed all task managers from my iPhone and iPad. No Things, no Sorted, no Todoist, no return to the venerable OmniFocus, and no cheating by writing what I need to do into a Notes checklist either.
There are no ToDo list apps on my iPhone.
They don't work, they have never worked and they're a tremendous waste of time and energy.
I don't know a single executive who uses them. That's not to say there aren't young executives who don't, but they'll get over it. I'm not counting entrepreneurs, and again, I'm hoping they'll get over it too. I'm talking about people who are responsible for a lot of people, a lot of divisions and a lot of products, as well as shareholders and customers.
Do you think Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos use Things or Sorted? I bet they don't. I don't think I met a single executive during my time at Virgin, Hasbro or PlayStation that used a ToDo list either.
It's not just that they don't work. If you get anything done, it's in spite of them, not because of them. It's that they are a distraction. Distractions have been eating away at the boundaries of my life for a few months and it's only fasting during Ramadan that has made me realise just how little I need, and what truly matters. But this is not about minimalism, it's about effectiveness, and I'm going to say it again... ToDo lists are useless.
You generally know what you are supposed to be working on. You generally know what the most important thing to do is. You generally know what you can let slide, and what really matters. You generally know what you are going to be measured on, and when you are just obsessing about vanity metrics. You know, I know, we have always known and yet we allow ourselves to get distracted.
Does this mean I have stopped using tools? No, that's not what I said either. I use the same tool that some of the executives I learned from used — a calendar.
If you want to get something done, it goes into the calendar. It gets allotted real time, like an appointment. Here's something else that's important: Try to keep your calendar clear. Don't say yes to everything, that's just like buying on credit, you're robbing time from your future self.
But if something absolutely has to get done on a certain day by a certain time, or you just want to create some leverage on yourself, then put it in the calendar.
What about day to day? What if you actually have to get a few things done, then what? Well, I use a 5" x 3" index card. I've been doing that for a couple of decades and that's what works for me. If I have to concentrate on a single task for some time, I stick it on a small whiteboard, with a deadline.
Now you might notice I didn't say anything about ToDo lists on computers. There I do keep a couple of databases, but I can't remember the last time I used them. One day I will likely pull them out, but let's face it, if I was really interested, I would have done something about some of them by now, and given I've had some items on my lists for more than a decade, what was the point in the first place? They’ll never get done, and they have been a digital psychological burden ever since, like my Netflix watch list.
Most of the things we think we have to do, simply don't need to get done. You might well argue that I take this too far, and don't do some of the things I'm supposed to do, and you might well be right, but as you start to grow older and realise your time is running out, you tend to get picky about what you do. If you're young, you might as well get into the habit of being picky while you still can.