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The Evil To-Do List

Is the first item on your to-do list, “Create to-do list?”

I used to do that, so when I finished the to-do list, I could have the satisfaction of checking at least one thing off my to-do list.

Clearly not helpful.

To-Do Lists

Why would you create a to-do list?

The obvious answer for most people is to facilitate getting done what you need to get done.  It’s a productivity tool.

It also helps you remember the small, yet important things you are committed to do that you could easily forget.  It’s a reminder tool.

To-do lists are also helpful visually seeing what needs to be done and aiding in prioritizing which items have a greater urgency than other items.  It’s a prioritization tool.

So, if a to-do list helps with productivity, remembering, and prioritization, then why is it generally hated and despised?

The Evil of a To-Do List

To-do lists don’t do anything.

Yes, it is a great tool.  But a hammer is also a great tool, but until it starts pounding nails, it cannot build a house.

My finished to-do list sits next to my computer.  Its all neatly printed, every line numbered, and sometimes runs several pages long.  And when I finish writing it, I’m just slightly closer to getting things done that when I started the list.

The evil in the to-do list is in what is missing from the list—dates and time commitments.


Here are several ideas to enhance your to-do list that make keeping a to-do list actually work for your benefit.

  1. Decide what your list is for. For example, I have two lists.  One is on sticky notes piled on my desk and includes only simple needs and requests.  When I find some free time, I pick up the pile and work my way through them.  Most I complete myself. However, some get passed on to someone else better equipped to finish

The second list is for longer-term projects.  These are the things I’m paid to work on, and most of them are small bites of a much larger project that I know I’ll never have time to accomplish in one sitting.

  1. On the longer-term project list, I identify a date when it needs to be done and the anticipated amount of time needed to finish that piece.
  2. Schedule everything. I schedule a week at a time, and every morning I schedule what will happen that day.  Each day is defined by prescheduled meetings and between those, I block out time to work on a piece of the long-term project list.  Small blocks of time are then allocated to the sticky notes, exercise, follow-up calls, etc.
  3. Be open to disruptions. Remember, your to-do list is just a list.  You are running a business or a department, and that is your priority.  If you need to drop everything and help one of your staff through a crisis, that is your priority.  Don’t turn away an employee who needs to talk to you because they are not on your to-do list and consequently not on your schedule.

The Bible

God has a to-do list.  And, they are related to “Be open to disruptions.”

The Bible tells us that the two items God has given us to put on our to-do list are:

  1. Love God (Mark 12:30)
  2. Love others (Mark 12:31)

Our to-do lists tend to be fairly selfish.  They are about what we want to accomplish.  Granted, many of the items may benefit many people, but the list is still about us.

What adds value to our list is the blank time where we can talk with an employee to find how their family is, we can call a past client just to check in, and we can take a few minutes to think and pray about how our business is going.

By all means, keep as many to-do lists as you need.  Add dates and time commitments to increase your efficiency.  But don’t let the lists, priorities, time commitments, and schedules keep you from doing the one thing you need to do—run your business and care for your employees.