To-do lists are one of the most fundamental and powerful tools we can utilize to organize our lives and track personal progress. Sometimes, though, we can get so wrapped up in making and reviewing our long to-do lists that we hardly complete any of the tasks on them! It turns out that a key to productivity may lie in a shorter to-do list.
Studies show that when you overstuff a to-do list, two things happen:
- Your brain becomes overly satisfied with writing the list (mistaking it for the to-do items themselves); and
- The more items you list, the harder it is for your brain to prioritize, possibly leading to decision fatigue and mental paralysis.
To avoid these pitfalls, try working from a shorter and more prioritized daily to-do list. It’s fine to keep a master list of everything that you need to get done, but you don’t want that list cluttering up your daily focus.
Working from your master list at the end of each day, move 2 – 3 priority tasks to your to-do list for the next day. The first can be what is called an MIT or Most Important Task — the one that could keep you late at work if it’s not finished. After you’ve prioritized this task, the others on the list can be smaller.
Science shows us that tackling your MIT in the morning will help set the tone for the rest of the day. Getting a top-priority task out of the way early can both stave off fatigue, and give you an energy boost for moving farther down your to-do list.
Focusing on a shorter to-do list (think, “Tiny Steps”) can help make you more productive in the long run, and it’s a great tactic to apply to other areas of your life outside work as well. Finances, fitness, diet—all can benefit from a short list led by an MIT. You can even make a high-priority to-do list to spice up your relationship.
So what’s your MIT for today? Maybe it could be to shorten your to-do list.