To-Do List or Daily To-Do List, that is the question

When running time management workshops I often ask how many people in the audience make to-do lists, almost everyone does. Delegates are often very proud that they have lists with 25 to as many as 40 or more items on them.

When I then ask how many delegates find lists to be really useful and helpful to their productivity, the number of hands is reduced significantly. Some delegates love them, others find them a real burden. I have even come across delegates who make a to-do list, and then run around all day being really busy, only to look at their list at the end of the day and discover they have completed nothing that was on their list. So to make themselves feel better they add a few things that they have completed during the day and then tick them off.

Now I believe that everyone needs to keep a list or things tend to get forgotten, (or is that just my age?). But a to-do list with 25 to 40 tasks on it quickly becomes a ‘pressure list’, and so I believe in daily to-do lists.

A short story about daily to-do lists

The problem

Around 100 years ago, Charles Schwab, the then president of Bethlehem Steel, wanted to improve both his own efficiency, and that of his management team. A well-known efficiency expert of the time, Ivy Lee,  was approached, and made a proposition that Charles Schwab could not refuse; he stated that he could “increase both their efficiency – and sales – if he could spend fifteen minutes with each of the management team.”

On asking how much it would cost, Charles Schwab was told “Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a cheque for whatever you feel it’s worth to you”.

The solution

The deal was agreed and the following day, Ivy Lee spent ten minutes with Charles Schwab and each member of his management team, asking each of them to promise that for the next ninety days, before leaving the office, they would make a list of the six most important things they had to do the next day and number them in their order of importance. They were then to tick off each item after finishing it, and go on to the next one on their list. If something doesn’t get done, put it on the following day’s list. The management team were astonished by the simplicity of the idea, but consented to follow Lee’s instructions.

The result

Three months later, Charles Schwab studied the results and was so pleased that he sent Ivy Lee a cheque for US$35,000. (At the time, the average worker in the US was being paid $2 per day).

The Time Doctors View

Charles Schwab, was considered to be one of the smartest businessmen of his day and was obviously impressed, but can it work in today’s business environment.

I believe in this day and age, even having six items on a daily to-do list is too many, so my suggestion to you is to follow the advice of Ivy Lee but only put three items on your daily to-do list, which will make it more manageable and allows time for you to deal with the curve balls that inevitably come our way during a working day.

If you can complete 3 important tasks per day, based on 220 working days a year that is 660 important tasks completed every year, would that make a difference to your productivity?

Give it a try and If it works you can send cheques to ……. Just joking but I would be delighted to hear if it works for you.

If you want any information on my time management seminars and mentoring programmes drop me a line at [email protected]

Till Next Time

The Time Doctor – Mike Gardner

Mike Gardner aka ‘The Time Doctor’ and is highly regarded as one of the UK’s leading Time Management and productivity specialists. As well as being regularly featured in both online and off-line media outlets around the world, he is the author of the best selling time management book, Business Owners: Your Family Misses You. He regularly speaks on topics that are congruent with his mission of helping small business owners, entrepreneurs and independent professionals to be incredibly productive, whilst still balancing their business and family commitments in a way that enables them to feel fulfilled and guilt-free. He is an avid Aston Villa fan, a Dad to Neil & Emma, a hubby to Wendy and in his role as an Officer with the reserve forces, he has completed operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Please note: Although I thank you for commenting, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

3 thoughts on “To-Do List or Daily To-Do List, that is the question

  1. To-do lists make me feel like a failure, especially when of only three things, I don’t finish them all, nor any of the other things that need to be done. If you have some suggestions for picking three items, I’d love to hear them. I know about urgent and important but not urgent, but it seems that there are always more than three urgent things to do.

    • Tip for you Charlotte: I have an accountability partner and for several years we have had a 5 things to do, that we send each other mond, tuesd, frid. With the new things to do we also send a check list from the day before. Anything not done moves over to “Unfinished” but gets checked of in time. 3 days, 15 things, every week! Works like a charm!

      The accountability is the key to this method! Get one comitted person to work with you and you’ll most likely do fine. :-)