Don’t Do More

To-do lists are positively indispensable. There’s no way I would be able to keep track of all the things that need to be done if I didn’t write them down. Seriously, I have the memory of a goldfish. This is true not only for tracking the things you need to do today, but also things that need to be done this week, this month, or this year. I don’t know where I’d be without my to-do lists.

They also happen to be the bane of my existence.

I Can’t Do It All

I don’t need to tell you how defeating and deflating it can feel to look down at an incomplete to-do list at the end of the day. As much as I try to start my day on a note of optimism, setting out to conquer the world all over again, it can be pretty crummy when you look at all the things I didn’t manage to complete that I really thought I was going to get accomplished. But, that’s not even the point of today’s post.

Just as I don’t need to tell you how crummy it can feel when you don’t finish what you set out to do, I don’t need to tell you just how satisfying it can feel to tick something off your list, especially if it’s been nagging at you for some time.

This applies to projects you might have around the house, like replacing the weather stripping on your home office window, but perhaps even more poignantly and profoundly when it comes to professional endeavors.

Ticking All the Boxes

Let’s say you want to shoot and edit a video for YouTube today, so you add it to your to-do list. You might even break it down into the different steps that are involved, like:

  • Write a rough outline with a shot list.
  • Arrange the set and configure your camera equipment.
  • Shoot the video.
  • Edit the video.
  • Write the video description.
  • Create the thumbnail.
  • Upload the file to YouTube.
  • Share the YouTube video on social media.

As you go through and complete each of these steps, it feels awfully good to put that little tick mark next to the task, right?

Getting Things in Focus

But you see, as useful and arguably as motivating as to-do lists can be for productivity, they almost put the focus on the wrong place. They reward you for getting things done, sure, but they don’t offer any rewards for doing things well. And there’s no weighting to the amount of work or the level of value that each task represents. It’s far more labor intensive to “shoot a video” and “edit the video” than it is to “upload to YouTube” and “share on Twitter.”

From the context of a standard to-do list, though, there’s no difference. A task is a task. And striking one task off your list holds no more or less value than striking any other task off your list. To this end, whether or not you think about it consciously, a to-do list simply encourages you to do more. Add more items to your list, just so you can strike them off your list and get that temporary rush of endorphins. It’s a false sense of accomplishment. It’s an illusion.

On some level, this is missing the point entirely. You might think that productivity has to do with getting the most things done possible. That’s the wrong kind of mindset.

It’s the same kind of mindset that would lead you to believe that being at work is the same thing as actually working. No, it’s about the quality of work that you put in. You can be much more productive in a one-hour focused session than you would dilly-dallying around for four hours, distracting yourself with this meme or that online game.

Forget About Doing More

So, as useful as to-do lists might be for keeping you organized and on track, don’t even concern yourself with doing more. Don’t worry about doing more. Instead, focus your energy on doing better. Do better work, produce better things, achieve better results. More is not enough. Better is what you need.