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I don’t like to-do lists but found it odd that I still continue to use them. Is my list-making just a futile exercise or productivity-flavored self-torture?
The to-do list is an inescapable, age-old productivity tool. It is our very human attempt to create order in our disorderly lives and an expression of our ability to impose self-control. Most of us, including to-do list haters, keep one, and so do 63% of professionals, according to a survey released by LinkedIn in May 2012.
Yet to-do lists seem particularly difficult to tame.
At I Done This, we used to have a to-do task feature, and we discovered some interesting numbers demonstrating the common struggle to conquer our to-do lists:
- 41% of to-do items were never completed.
- 50% of completed to-do items are done within a day.
- 18% of completed to-do items are done within an hour.
- 10% of completed to-do items are done within a minute.
- 15% of dones started as to-do items.
In other words:
- people aren’t that great at completing their to-do tasks;
- tasks that do get completed are done quickly; and
- tasks that are reported as done don’t correlate with planned to-do tasks.
The popular to-do list, then, appears to be rather ineffective, and it’s this paradox that may explain the spiky love/hate relationship that people have with to-do lists. Is the to-do list just a blunt instrument to wield in the quest for personal productivity and getting stuff done? Or does the weakness lie deeper in ourselves in our human struggle to impose order and control?
It seemed too facile to chalk up the poor figures to the simple failure of to-do lists and/or humankind, so we wanted to take a closer look into why people aren’t good at completing their to-do lists.