Rethinking To Do Lists

My to do lists are my life savers. I need them to remind me what to day every day. However, critics of to do lists have correctly stated that these lists may help us feel productive but they may just become checklists of menial tasks, most of which have no significance. So I would agree that an endless checklist of items such as empty cat litter, sort sock drawer, and swiffer the floor can just be time consuming where at the end of the day, even though we checked off many of these tasks, we can still be unproductive. Therefore, being busy is not proof of being productive or doing meaningful activities.

However, what if we organized our to do lists into our roles or categories and then organize our important tasks into each so that we can focus our efforts on productive tasks? According to Stephen R. Covey, in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, defining our roles and then identifying tasks that fit into each role would help us in our productivity. For example, my daily roles include professor, family member (covers my being a wife and mother), writer, and personal development. I could further separate my professor role into prepper, grader, and developer. Then I would list the tasks under each of these roles such as “grade assignment #1 for human development class” and “develop module 8” under my role as professor. And under family, I would list “Make doctor’s appointment” or “Review homework”.

By organizing my tasks under each role, I can focus on these activities as I carry out my roles during the day. In the morning when I start work, I tackle the items I listed under Professor. Then when I finish my work, I can go into my parent role and check my son’s homework. After I finish helping him, I can work on my personal development role through my writing or researching. By completing tasks according to my roles helps me to focus on related tasks rather than trying to check off a long list of unrelated activities.

Also, when I had a long list of things to do, I often tackled the easy items such as organizing my sock drawer rather than work on activities that help me achieve my goals. Now I am conscious of completing tasks that help me work towards my goal. These tasks are the first ones I complete before moving onto the smaller items that need to be done but can wait.

Grouping my to do list into roles has helped me better prioritize my tasks so that they can be done at the start of my day. Completing meaningful tasks that take me closer to my main goals have helped me feel more productive and purposeful in completing my tasks. Now when I am organizing my t-shirt drawer by color at the end of the day or relaxing by watching another episode of “Jane the Virgin”, I can do so without the weight of feeling that I need to be doing something more important.