Personal Productivity

Are We Managing Our To-Do Lists All Wrong?

Are you managing your to-do list wrong?
wrote this on February 6, 2014
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Like me, I’m sure you’d like to be more productive.  You prioritize your lists, break big projects to bite sized tasks and you try to keep it tidy. However, we still struggle, right?

One night, while writing down my to-do list for the next day, a thought occurred to me…

Why do I always push certain tasks to the back of the list while preferring to promote others to the top?

What if I told you that your brain hates the way you manage your to-do lists?

Whether we keep it short, tidy or detailed; we always encounter resistance when going over our list because we are either:

– Bored: When we’re working on completing tasks, we’re focused most of the time on a list of declarative items that describe the obvious and mundane.


– Scared: We may encounter new tasks which we have not done before, or come across items that seem too challenging.

We should be handling our task based on our priorities; rather than be driven by fear or boredom.

Playing around with my list pushed me to think outside-of-the-box for solutions for this conundrum i.e. how can I make sure that I won’t recoil from a task or get bored by it, i.e. make them more user friendly for my brain?

1# Change a relatively boring list to something that can excite you

Since lists in their current state are declarative in nature, I first tackled changing the way I write them.

I found out that we’re more likely to read something if it has a question mark attached to it which led me to change the way I write tasks.

Let’s start with one of the most boring tasks that I know off, doing your laundry.

Instead of writing it like the mundane task it is i.e. as a declaration “– Do the laundry at 8 PM”, write it as a question or even a challenge! This will rub some extra flavor into it “Can you finish the laundry before 8:30 PM?” and will make sure you’ll tackle it.

Asking question stimulates our curiosity; curiosity is an engine that motivates us to explore and discover.

Are you managing your to-do list right?

When something interests us, our curiosity ignites, creating a sense of expectation.  Ultimately, this signals our conscious brain that there’s a reward to be had. Our brain loves rewards!

2# Finding answers increases confidence and fights procrastination

Posing a question almost always leads to some sort of search which ultimately leads to answers.  Answers help dissipate fears and anxiety associated with our fear of the unknown and certainly address boredom.  Furthermore, questions expose the bigger picture, pushing you to acquire more details about the task you’re about to perform.

Next time, instead of writing on your to-do list “Ask for a raise”, a task that I’m sure both excites and frightens, try to write it done as a question “Why can I ask for a raise tomorrow?

These kinds of questions will require answers and after some research you’ll see that the answered question will leave you much more confident in yourself to complete the underlying tasks.

3# An action with a question mark next to it is a beginning of a plan

When your task is a question and you answer it, you’re beginning to draft the skeleton of what will be the task’s execution plan.

Every plan begins as a list of tasks you need to do, but what happens when you turn those tasks to question is amazing…

Buy groceries for my party task *as declarative statements*

– Buy snacks

– Decorate my house

– Send invitations

Buy groceries for my party task *as questions*

– What snacks should I buy and where should I buy them?

– How will I decorate my house?

– Who will get invited to the party?

The nature of the question drives you into action even while drafting them, pushing you to get answers before you need to perform the task, thereby reducing the associated stress of planning.

This provides mental preparation and visualization for your brain before you approach doing the task.  This will result better processing and planning, ultimately, helping you reach the right conclusions regarding your task completion.

In conclusion, working this way has definitely changed the way I get things done and limited the time I spend re-arranging my task list (aka procrastination).

So when you draft your next to-do list, try to ask instead questions and tell me how it went…

Until we meet again!

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18 responses to “Are We Managing Our To-Do Lists All Wrong?”

  1. Anna Deręgowska-Watza says:

    Really? I don’t feel it…

    • Team IQTELL says:

      Hi Anna, how are you doing?

      Did you mean you tried something similar and it’s not working for you? Or do you think it won’t work?

      In my experience, I procrastinate when I don’t face the things I dread in my
      lists. I usually dread the things I can’t answer immediately. That’s why
      actively answering questions and working on a to-do list that is less
      declarative in nature – gives me the answers I need to complete my tasks.

      • Anna Deręgowska-Watza says:

        If I see the questions, I need much more time to do that tasks. If I have short notes – I would do it. If I need to decide (like in the takes about snacks) – it will take much more time and I put it for later and later and later…

        • Team IQTELL says:

          I see.

          You’re saying that decision fatigue might get in the way if you’re about to do something straight forward and you ask questions about it… I agree.

          That’s why you should do so *only* with tasks you dread or tasks that you consider boring, it can give you the edge you need to finish the job…

          Excitement can motivate you, but it can also disrupt the process, point taken.

  2. Haim,

    Funny. Simple re-wording like noted changed our feelings. Our new feelings move us into new actions. We become different new people who get new results.

    Make things interesting. Do whatever you have to do to spice things up. I re-word, and also take frequent breaks. Each hour I chill for 5-10 minutes. Detaching makes things fun.

    Excellent tips.

  3. Diane Pecoraro Coradlo says:

    This fits with the GTD principle that you should do ALL the thinking on the front end, resulting in actionable NEXT steps. The next best thing to doing all the thinking is leaving yourself a question. I like it and I’m sure there’s at least a little bit of room for it to improve my system. Thanks!

  4. nm says:

    I really like this!!

  5. One thing I like to do is note how long each task will take. 5 minutes? An hour? A day?

    Time always pops up throughout the day, but you never know how long is will be. Someone is running 5 minutes late? Look at which tasks will take 5 minutes. The meeting gets cancelled altogether? Look at what’s going to take an hour. This saves me so much time because I add these things to the list as they come to my head and when “new time appears” I just look to my list instead of wasting time thinking about how I’m going to use my new time.

  6. Diane Norfleet Quintana says:

    This is terrific, Haim! I love the idea of posing tasks as questions. I’ll try this technique and see if it moves my clients past being stuck.

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