Why You Should Stop Using To-Do Lists (and What to Do Instead)

05/29/2016 08:26 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
Woman using digital tablet
Woman using digital tablet

Would you describe yourself as over-worked and under-productive?

Many entrepreneurs and B2B owners would lump themselves under that category with the excuse: "It's just the nature of what we do," but it doesn't have to be that way.

"Work smarter, not harder," is the sage advice NY Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse recently shared with us.

He surveyed 239 entrepreneurs, 13 olympic athletes, 29 straight-A students, and 7 billionaires (like Mark Cuban and Sir Richard Branson), to discover time management secrets that lead to ultra-productivity. Here are three of those secrets from his book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management:

1. Don't Use To-Do Lists

When we leave a task unfinished, our subconscious is negatively impacted (aka the Zeigarnik Effect). It leads to worry-filled, restless nights as our brains try to process all that didn't get accomplished during the day.

Kevin's suggestion is to stop living from unfinished and stressful to-do lists and start organizing your world from your calendar.

Stop living from a stressful to-do list and start organizing your world from your calendar. (Click to tweet)

Rather than a slew of tasks on paper, which have no context as to complexity or time-requirements, set aside time blocks on your calendar to complete those tasks.

You'll kill two birds with one stone-you're less likely to procrastinate a big task if the time is already secured (i.e. no meetings or phone calls scheduled during that time) and you'll reduce your mental stress as you don't have to think about what hasn't gotten done.

Tools, such as Calendly and even good old Outlook, exist to help you manage your personal and professional time; effectively allowing you to align your tasks and schedule to your values and priorities.

2. Limit Meetings

Can you imagine Bill Gates bopping in and out of meetings all week? Of course not! His time, just like yours, is extremely valuable and 99% of the time is better spent doing his actual job.

In fact, nearly every one of the ultra-productive leaders Kevin surveyed said they have strict rules in place to how often they would schedule and attend meetings.

Some set aside one day a week where they won't schedule any meetings to not interrupt the flow of productivity, while others swing to the other extreme and allow just one a day a week for planned meetings.

Atlassian even suggests that as much as $37 billion in salary costs is wasted in the U.S. alone due to employees attending unnecessary meetings. It's not only a productivity killer, it's a profitability drainer, too.

3. Make Your Mornings Count

Consistent morning routines which include drinking water, eating breakfast, and some form of exercise, are another common habit of ultra-productive people.

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Meeting your body's basic physical needs, combined with some form of mental preparation such as reading or meditating, is a proven way to set yourself up for an energized and productive day.

"If you want to do more, you need to become more" says Kevin on why you can't forego your morning routines.

Block out an hour on your calendar every morning for your "pre-work prep." It doesn't have to be CrossFit or a gourmet breakfast, but whatever it is, it needs to be consistent.

It can be as simple as drinking a protein shake and 20 minutes on a treadmill while watching the news-these few tasks awaken your mind and body, and set the tone for the rest of your day.

Conclusion

Kevin dropped this nugget of wisdom, saying, "If you're not attacking the day, you're letting the day attack you!"

"If you're not attacking the day, you're letting the day attack you!" -Kevin Kruse (Click to tweet)

Take control of your time and productivity through a series of intentional actions.

Swap your to-do list for a calendar. Be ruthless about which meetings are critical and which should be scrapped. Start your day by invigorating your mind and body, so you can achieve productivity like you've never known.

You can find the interview that this post was based on, and many more, by subscribing to the B2B Growth Show on iTunes.

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James Carbary
is the founder of Sweet Fish Media, a done-for-you business development service that guarantees new relationships between B2B companies and their ideal clients. James also co-hosts the B2B Growth Show: a podcast dedicated to helping B2B executives achieve explosive growth.