Canadians are great at so many things. We invented the zipper, we dominate in hockey and we make a pretty mean snowball. And I am proud to say that we also top the charts for keeping To Do lists.
Ironically though, the same study ranked us quite low for task turnover. While we are good at adding things to our list, we are not so hot at crossing things off.
The Winging-it Approach
Despite this study, a lot of people use the “winging-it” approach to track their tasks. They view a TO DO List as a crutch. Or maybe they find it to be too much work to maintain a list. Or maybe they just got fed up with having an endless list.
A Critical Productivity Tool
Regardless of where you currently rank, a GREAT (and I mean world-class great) to do list is a must-have productivity tool. With the potential for overwhelm and dropped balls being ever-present, we need a record of all of tasks, commitments, deadlines, goals and aspirations.
A To Do list:
- Compensates for an imperfect memory: Try as we might, we can’t remember everything. Research from the 1950’s found that the capacity of our working memory was around seven things. (Legend states that this is why phone numbers originally started out as 7 digits long.) Most of us trying to remember many more things: 70 or even 7000 details. Inevitably, things slip through the cracks when we are dealing with this many details, and we need a system to track them.
- Focuses our efforts: When we are aware of everything that we want to do, we can zero in on the most important task. Only when we have one central list can we objectively pick the task that warrants our focus right now. Without that clear comparison, we tend to think that many things are a top priority. And when we are torn between many top priorities, we end up jumping back and forth in an inefficient way that doesn’t get anything done well.
- De-prioritizes tasks: We can only do so many things at once. When we are clear on our top priorities, we also become clear about what we cannot do. It is quite comforting to release the guilt associated with putting things on a list and recognizing that now is not the time.
The goal is to do a few things really well. When we spread ourselves thin, we lose our impact. A To Do list helps us to recognize that we can’t do everything, but rather that we need to focus on efforts on our goals and commitments.
This is good for productivity, regardless of our nationality.