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10/31/2015 06:00 am ET

I Quit Writing To-Do Lists And Became Way More Productive

And happier.
Rutherhagen, Peter via Getty Images

I was recently working at a coffee shop when I couldn't help but overhear the conversation going on at the table next to me. The ladies caught my attention because they sounded like me -- stressed, tired and trying to figure out how to get it all done in the quickly passing hours of the day. That is, they sounded like me a few years ago before I quit writing to-do lists.

To-do lists are seemingly innocent, designed to help you be more productive. But it turns out to that writing these lists -- which had become an obsessive daily ritual -- was having the opposite effect. They were stressing me out. And as soon as I quit them, I began to regain a feeling of peace. And with that I found I was a whole lot more productive.

Yes, I realize this sounds like nonsense -- and even corny. And I realize that not everyone who writes to-do lists is compulsive about it. But I was -- and these women at the coffee shop were. And if this sounds like you, then read on.

Here are six reasons to give up to-do lists -- and become more productive and even a little happier.

1. To-do lists are designed to make you feel like you've failed the day. Most of the time, we put more on our to-do list than it's humanly possible to achieve during our 16 waking hours. And seeing on paper what you didn't get done only makes you feel like you're not doing enough. (Trust me, you are.) And feeling like you're not doing enough is the fastest way to lose your motivation to keep going.

2. The process of writing a to-do list sometimes tempts you to add more items to your list than are actually necessary. Taking the time to write a list gets your brain thinking of what needs to be done, and when it can't think of anything else it will gladly come up with new items that could be done. And this just isn't helping anyone. Remember, just because you wrote it down on a list doesn't mean it will get done. It probably means you'll freak out about how much you have to do. 

3. Being faced with a long to-do list is almost guaranteed to make you feel stressed. And out of time. And maybe even panicked. You may find yourself attending each task with haste, urgency and probably just want to get it done. This isn't a pleasant way to go about life. 

4. If you're trying to quickly get something done to attend to the next item on your ever-growing to-do list, there is a chance you won't complete that task well. And then, you might have to redo it at a later point. This is just making more work for yourself. If you don't have a list reminding you of everything else that needs to be done, you can attack each task with complete attention and a calm that will allow you to clearly think through what needs to be done. It lets you be more productive and is also kind of an enjoyable way to get things done.

5. Not writing lists makes it more likely that you'll only remember to do what is absolutely essential. All the other stuff that isn't really important will just be forgotten, and then you'll have so much more time to do other things ... like relax. 

6. If you replace the time you'd spend writing and thinking about what you have to do with meditation, you'll be hugely rewarded. This is really hard to do, especially if you're someone who feels like you just don't have time to get things done, but this practice will help you more than you can imagine. It taught me to attack a task with intention and attention because through meditation I was learning to focus on one thing at a time. And more importantly, it taught me that what I can get to in one day is enough -- even if that means not having done a thing I would have previously thought super important.

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