Unconvinced: To Do Lists are Evil, Schedule Things Instead

Prolific productivity writer Eric Barker – hang on, you can’t have lazy productivity writers, can you? – argues that whatever doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done. He has a point. I disagree with the logical extension of this that To Do lists are therefore worthless and the calendar is king. Here’s the core of is argument:

To-do lists are evil. Schedule everything.

To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule. Why?

It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it’s efficient, not just because it’s #4.

Until it’s on your calendar and assigned an hour, it’s just a list of wishful thinking.

How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m. – Eric Barker, The Week (18 September 2014)

Read the full piece for more but I’m unconvinced. I seethe logic and I am actually scheduling times for certain things every week yet, I don’t know. I have a recurring task to check the Writers’ Guild email inbox that I’m responsible for. It takes about two minutes if there is email in it, less if there isn’t. I could schedule an hour for that and relax for 58 minutes.

But I think you’d argue that it would be sensible to schedule an hour for doing, say, all Writers’ Guild stuff. That’s certainly less time-consuming than taking each Guild task and assigning a time to it.

So let’s say Tuesdays at 9am, I do Guild work. That’s what I need to schedule, not every single damn task in it. And come Tuesday at 9am, what will I open to start work? My To Do list.

I nearly skipped pointing you at this piece because I think it’s one good point puffed up to be a whole article. But there is an interview within it with a professor who sounds remarkable at getting a lot done. So do have a look, if only for that.

The brute-force way to motivate yourself

Regular productivity writer Eric Barker has a piece in Time magazine about what he calls the mistake every Productivity system makes:

Productivity systems rarely take emotions into account. And feelings are a fundamental and unavoidable part of why humans do what they do.

We can’t ignore our emotions. Because of the way our brains are structured, when thought and feelings compete, feelings almost always win.

Riffing on a book called Change by Chip and Dan Heath (UK edition, US edition), Barker proposes we think like mad when we’re planning what we have to do but then we do it by feel and specifically by using three steps to “rile up those emotions and get things done”.

The three – detailed in the full piece – are about rewords and peer pressure but my favourite is:

Having trouble finding a reward awesome enough to get you off your butt? Try a “commitment device” instead:

Give your friend $100. If you get a task done by 5PM, you get your $100 back. If you don’t complete it, you lose the $100.

Your to-do list just got very emotional.

That’s broadly the same principle that the website Go Fucking Do It works on (official website, news story on The Blank Screen)

Spell Happiness with four Ps

There’s an overwhelming amount of happiness research. Forget incorporating it all into your life — merely remembering it is daunting enough. I like to keep it simple: Remember the 4 P’s.


Work those into every day and you’ll be smiling more.

The Way to Happiness: Remember the 4 Ps – Time

Ye-ess… I’m listening… tell me more.