Why you can’t finish your To Do list

Most people, even the most successful of business people, even successful lawyers, struggle to complete everything they have assigned for themselves to do. A recent survey by the professional networking site LinkedIn looked at how many people were able to complete things on their to do lists and from what industries. This survey noted that lawyers reported being the least able to finish all their tasks. Small business wasn’t broken out or asked as a category but we suspect that for the small business owner, the numbers are even worse.

Why is that? We researched all the best advice on getting through your list that we could find and there are some startling conclusions.

We put the wrong things on our lists.

We tend to put big projects that we haven’t thought about properly on our list. If you add  a task like ‘create presentation for national sales meeting’ to your list in the morning and expect to get it done and crossed off by the end of the day then you are setting yourself up to fail. Instead we should be putting achievable tasks onto our lists. ‘Finish rough draft of national sales presentation and pass out for review’ is still an ambitious goal but one that at least might be achieved.

We procrastinate.

This one isn’t really a surprise but the way we procrastinate just might be. People procrastinate by letting little tasks or even non-tasks get in the way of what is important. To get past this problem, use the power of time. Schedule ‘research’ (procrastination) time so that it has an end point. And schedule the most important task for the first free period of time of the day and don’t allow interruptions. The 80-20 rule suggests that the most important task is likely to deliver 80% of the effectiveness of the whole list. So do that first and set aside the time to do it right.

We don’t edit.

The to do list should be achievable in the first place. Experts differ on the numbers but a list should have at most ten (some say seven, or even five or three) things on it. So if there are too many cross the less important ones off. There’s a good chance they don’t need to be done at all and even if they do, right now they are distractions from what is important.

For a more in depth look at being effective with your to do list and your time, read ‘Make the most of your to do list.’

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