Why your To Do list is a terrible master

Money money money

Regardless of the system you use, a To Do list is an excellent productivity tool. However just like money and fire, a To Do list is a good servant but a terrible master.

The problem is that To Do lists don’t always provide a strong link to the end goal. The tasks are not a goal in themselves, just a path towards it. But people can become focused on the path and not the destination goal. This creates a ‘Check box’ mentality where team members work away at their tasks, divorced from changing situations or differences in priority. The need for the task may have changed or the logical next step may have altered, but they carry on regardless.

To Do lists also erode responsibility. Let me explain why. We have a goal to attain, so we break the project down into discrete tasks. Some of those rely on interaction with other people outside the project team. Perhaps we need some information or approval on some material. The To Do list mentality can’t handle third party interactions well. Asking for the information is a task, which gets checked off. The To Do ball is now in someone else’s court. Now suppose nothing comes back, but that’s ok since we have a tickler To Do reminding us to chase, which we do. Again, the ball is back in their court and we can sleep tight. Except the clock is ticking, and the project is not progressing. The To Do list doesn’t create a work around in this scenario. It causes project myopia.

Unless we take a step back and review all our project goals, then compare them to our To Do list, we’ll fall foul of this project myopia. We take responsibility for the task, not the goal. Make sure your To Do list is your servant, and you’re not its slave.