Chief Executive Insights

If things start ‘falling through the cracks’ it might be time to throw out your to-do list

Who hasn’t got plenty on their ‘to-do’ list, and how often do we get to the bottom of the list and get it all done?

The load of work, tasks, chores and projects we want and need to achieve can be endless. Many of us spend time in a state of busy, pushing on through what needs to be done, striving for greater productivity.

So, when would you notice that it was all too much or that you had too much to do? What might make you reconsider what you’re working on and how you’re working?

When something ‘falls through the cracks’ it’s because it has been ignored, overlooked or forgotten. The consequences could be significant … life-threatening or disastrous.

Our tasks and to-dos can fall through the cracks too. Sometimes it won’t matter at all; perhaps it was something that wasn’t as important as we previously thought, or the situation has changed so the task is no longer needed.

Here are 5 things to consider – and reconsider – about your ‘to-do’ list and the things that might fall through the cracks: 

  1. Trade in your outdated to-do list
    The old-fashioned to do list has been overtaken by smarter tools and techniques. Apps like Monday, Trello and Asana help us capture tasks, prioritise them and include more helpful information; like the time estimation for completion or the due date and reminders for delivery. They also help us delegate, including others who have a role to play in the task’s completion. It’s clear the basic to-do list is ageing and ineffective when there are newer, easier ways of capturing and managing what we need to keep track of. The likelihood of losing or forgetting tasks can be reduced.
  2. Leave the juggling to buskers and performers
    While it might feel like ‘just a little bit of juggling’ when you’re trying to do six things at once, remember that even the best jugglers drop things. When we try to do too many things at once, the degree of difficulty increases and the likelihood we will miss something is greater. Plus, the consequences could be dire. Don’t let you juggling your workload be the cause of something being overlooked or missed.
  3. Be here, now and focus on one thing
    The research data from Harvard Business Review tells us that even though we think we’re ok at multitasking, we’re not. Our productivity drops by 40% and our IQ by 10%. If you need more evidence, just ask people who have broken their ankle on the bottom few stairs while multitasking (texting and walking down stairs) or cut their finger with a knife while multitasking, looking at a boiling pot for a moment and chopping an onion. Split attention is highly inefficient and drains our energy. Don’t wait for your own personal evidence or unfortunate experience to confirm you’re not good at multitasking. None of us are.
  4. Big tasks are too hard to do
    Check your to do list and notice the size of the tasks. We often make them so big, they seem too overwhelming for us to start or finish. To do lists don’t make it easy to ‘slice up’ big tasks into easier-to-complete smaller tasks. It’s more likely we’ll glaze over when we see the list, skip over tasks or forget them all together.
  5. You’ll miss what you can’t see
    When we’re juggling, switching and multitasking our way through a too big to-do list, we’re also in danger of suffering ‘inattentional blindness’.  This is where we lose the ability to judge what information is important or valuable; we miss things that are right in front of us. The research and book about ‘The Invisible Gorilla’ is both insightful … and shocking. In short, you may not know what you’re missing.

The older ways of working are changing. Newer and more productive ways of managing and completing tasks have come to light in recent years. Try them out. You’ll get more done and feel better while you’re at it, not to mention the situations, problems and disasters we will all might avert by making sure we focus and catch everything that truly needs to get done.

Written by Lynne Cazaly.

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Lynne Cazaly
Lynne Cazaly, author of Argh! Too much information, not enough brain: A Practical Guide to Outsmarting Overwhelm’ ($29.95), is a speaker and award-winning author on new ways of working. She helps individuals and organisations think and work in ways that are more productive, collaborative, creative and effective.

Lynne Cazaly is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.