The TO-DO List Is Your Enemy

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“OK, I got it. I will put it on my TO-DO list”. Tom said it with all the sincerity he could muster. He entered the activity in his iPhone. Later, I saw him write it down in his Moleskin. He had plans to get it done. He really did. When I asked Tom about it a few weeks later, he said it was still in the TO-DO list category. As in, not done.

Some might say Tom’s inactivity is a good example of procrastination. Granted, others might say it is a sign of a person too busy to get things done. Or, maybe he is the guy who always over-promises and under-delivers. The world is full of those. But as I see things not getting done in organizations, I see something even a little more evil than the afflictions already mentioned. That is, confusing the TO-DO list with the DONE list. Putting an activity on the TO-DO list is not the end, it is the beginning. DON’T CONFUSE PUTTING SOMETHING ON THE TO-DO LIST WITH GETTING SOMETHING DONE.

We are all guilty. We check the easy things off the TO-DO list. Instead of checking off actions like “Complete Strategic Plan”; we take satisfaction in checking off “Coffee with Joe.” Instead of checking off “Schedule Performance Reviews for Team,” we check off “Send Flowers to Jenny for her Birthday.”

It is easy too to create a wasteland for activities. A good example is when we move emails into buckets that we will never check again. That is not a spot from which things will get done. It means an activity does not even make it to the TO-DO list.

It is also noteworthy that the number of things on some TO-DO lists never goes down. The list is always long. That’s because the big things stay on the list and more little things replace the little things that are checked off.  If your TO-DO list always stay at about the same number of things to do you may have a problem.

Are you proud of how long your TO-DO list is? Get over it. It is not a contest. I used to boast about how long my TO-DO list was. Now I see it as something private to me and something that needs to get down to zero.

There is joy in doing. There is not much in a TO DO List. Don’t worry so much about the TO DO List. There is no substitute for doing.

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