I did a small experiment to live my week without using a to-do list – neither a catch-all/ master list not a daily/ dynamic list. The constraint I placed on myself is to work from brain literally – to use only my mind to remember and recall my tasks for the job at hand.
I, of course, took notes, made mind maps of things, but I also learnt something useful.
For a to-do list maker, it may seem odd how one can live without a list, but mind it that most of us work and getaway without using a task list. On the other hand, as warned by Mark Forster, since most use it doesn’t mean it is the most effective or efficient.
Not using a to-do list is, however, effective when one’s job tasks are fixed like any physical intensive work like farming for example. The tasks are defined and confined to set of seasonal activities. Though it would involve planning, but the definitiveness and more so the lack of choice of doing other things makes it easier to follow.
Consider a hypothetical ‘to-do list’ of a farmer:
- Wake up
- Go to the farm
- Do plant and animal husbandry work
- Return home
Similarly, my wife, except for making a grocery list, doesn’t use a to-do list. She has almost all her work for the day scheduled to every minute (like feeding my daughter, bathing her, reading, etc) and sticks to it religiously.
But on the contrary, one of the fundamental task of a knowledge worker is to create his/ her own tasks which markedly differentiates itself from other work.
The to-do list needs to be ‘created’ by a knowledge worker, not just given. More so, most of us the knowledge workers work from our laptop with internet connectivity and most of activities might have deadlines are not hard stops. They are more human contracts rather than constraint of the job itself.
This said, it also perpetuates the sense/ lack of direction thereof. Hence the emphasis on planning in knowledge work.
To-do list, I believe, to be a subset of planning and engagement. So, the last week, wherever there was meetings, defined outcomes, my sense of direction was clear or at least I wasn’t bothered by. But wherever I didn’t have it, I did feel a bit lost.
I tried creating ‘done list’, but abandoned as I realised the only benefit of it is reflection of day’s work, which I was not very excited about. A to-do list I reckoned will provide with me both the sense of direction and reflection on the day’s work done (by the ‘strikethroughs’ and ‘checks’).
On a simple note, I also missed the dopamine rush that I get out of crossing a task off. More importantly, recording ideas/ tasks/ whatever it might be, gave some reassurance that I get to attend to it at least later.
Experiment for the coming week
Mark Forster is currently writing about his experiments using a ‘long list‘. I am planning to do the same by using a catch-all/ master-list as my main list – rather than a dump list as I have been using it so far. I even migrated the list to the running pages in my notebook rather than recording it in last pages.
Though Mark says he is using a full scanning list, I am planning to use a ‘FIFO’ method of processing the tasks, which is creatively named ‘Another Little Method’.
Here are it’s instructions:
“Another Little Method
1. Write down as many tasks as you want—but they must be done in the order they are written.
2. You can add and re-enter tasks at any time.
3. You can reschedule by crossing tasks out.
4. Experiencing resistance to the list should always be taken as a sign that rescheduling is needed.”
I will let you know how it goes in the next week.