Why To-Do Lists Promote Procrastination

Staying organized is one of my greatest strengths, especially when it comes to my day. For a Type A personality, my to-do lists are a must. I take notes for everything, but creating boxes and check them off when they’re done one-by-one turns into a fun game for me. But when I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted, my to-do list was doing more harm than good.

From my experience, I’ve found having a to-do lists are one of the biggest procrastination tools we have to keep us busy. Listing dreams, goals, tasks, and activities all on 1 or 2 pieces of paper can be very distracting to an undisciplined individual. And honestly, for anyone, this doesn’t allow you to truly focus on the priorities. I believe by creating this type of list, it perpetuates a feeling of accomplishment by looking at what to do which leads to busy-work.

Busy-work is what I find to be the bigger distraction. Or in other words, this is what people call staying busy. I’ve learned this type of to-do list doesn’t move the needle to accomplish your most important goals. For example, when I used to write out my to-do lists on a weekly basis, they were lofty, ambitious, and sometimes un-executable. They were mainly my dreams and how I wanted to accomplish them. Unfortunately, this was only leading to my demise. I was missing the mark.

I’ve learned a proper to-do list needs to be tasks that convert to actionable goals which leads to desired results. This list is not created to be busy. Your list is a group of activities that force you to further your progress that only you can accomplish, which is why everything should be written down. It should make you feel uncomfortable. And yes, you should feel both mentally and physically exhausted.

So what does a to-do list look like?

Since everyone has different personalities and priorities, there’s no “one size fits all” model. Start with a base consisting of goals and tasks. Goals can be synonymous with dreams, but it’s up to you since it is your list. Tasks that require more than one step shouldn’t be on the to-do list unless it’s labeled as a goal. I suggest the goal area stays reserved to be aligned with your purpose or activities that fulfill the soul.

As for me, I define a goal to be different than a task, so it shouldn’t be under or below a grocery list. For example, my goal to buy a 7 bedroom house is not under my list to complete for the day. If purchasing my house was a to-do, I would be completely deflated because I have a lot more steps, goals, and accomplishments before it goes into my Evernote (a to-do list app). I dream too big for that right now, and I have a lot of work to do to make that happen.

Therefore, on to the next one.

I write this because my business is personal. My struggles are for your gain. No strings attached.

Nathan A. Webster, MBA