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how useful Are the lists of tasks?

An easy and very commented to manage the time is the list of tasks (todo lists). As its name indicates, it is a simple list of those activities that we have pending, by way of check-lists. But, are they really effective? In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the expert in time management Daniel Markovitz presents five problems that makes to-do lists are not effective.

The problems presented to us by Markovitz are the following:

1. The paradox of choice

The psychologist Barry Schwartz is famous for having explored the effects on cognition of an excessive number of options. Schwartz maintains that iincrease the number of options has negative effects on our emotions, because it also increases our sense of the cost associated to the choice between options. In other words: the more items, the more cognitive work we have to invest to choose the options that seem most feasible to implement.

Markovitz cites a research of Sheena Iyengar, shows that the maximum number of options that we can handle before we feel overwhelmed is seven. Beyond that number, the odds of paralysis before the task of choosing increase dangerously.

2. Complexity heterogeneous

The lists often contain tasks that are diverse in terms of the effort and time they have to devote to them. In that sense, it is more likely that we end up decanting for those that require the least investment of time and energy, given the satisfaction that it brings us to see that, at least, we have done some tasks from the list. Complex tasks are at risk of being relegated again and again.

3. Priority heterogeneous

The tasks may also have different order of priority. So, we tend to pay more attention to the tasks of the first order of priority, relegating the second-and third-order…. until, out of the first order, the second pass to be of the first order of priority, and so on. What we have here is a dynamic down, you can do that tasks that are perceived as having less priority are left on the sidelines… until they actually appear in real life, as a priority, maybe when it is too late.

4. Lack of context

The lists of tasks, by the fact of being ready, tend not to provide enough context to help us determine what work we should perform. On paper, all the tasks may seem the same but require different investments of time and effort.

5. Lack of commitment

Markovitz tells us that the lists do not have “commitment devices”, which are nothing but mechanisms that compel us to follow a course of action. In the absence of these mechanisms, nothing prevents us to choose those tasks that are more pleasurable and easy to perform, over and above those which are more difficult but may be a higher priority.

Is there any alternative feasible lists of tasks? Markovitz suggests us use our calendars in a way that includes: schedules forced us to determine the time and effort necessary for each task, forcing us to set some concrete deadlines for the same, offering in this way a “commitment device”. In addition, to represent the tasks on a calendar will allow us to decide if we can or not to accept new tasks and if they do, determine realistically the timescales in which we will be able to carry them out.


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