TO DO or not TO DO, a TO DO’s LIST… that is the question…

I came across some interesting comments by Richard Branson and Kevin Kruse as to the value of ‘To Do Lists’ and the Calendar…

“Without to-do lists, I would use my time far less effectively, and have a lot less fun.”

Richard Branson

“Highly successful people don’t have a to-do list, but they do have a very well-kept calendar.”

 – Kevin Kruse

I’m a great fan of both the ‘To Do/Task List’ and the Calendar and the value they add, yet they have very different functions.

You can check out Mr. Branson’s article here

The calendar technology is a super cool collaborative real-time tool meant to take the grunt work out of arranging meetings both inside and outside organisations; no more wasting time setting meetings through e-mail and phone calls etc. – it can be virtually done with a click of a button, a great time saver – correct?

Sadly, this is where it goes pear shaped; one of the main reasons the value of the calendar is diminished is blocking out time for individual task work.   This takes the calendar from a tool where all have access to our availability to an individual ‘diary’ where we appear to be busy for the next 6 months.   Ask any EA or PA how frustrating this habit has become.

In the old days of time management and paper diaries we were taught to block out time – this was well before technology; I guess old habits die hard.

A ‘To Do/Task List’ is a wonderful proactive tool that manages all our ‘flexible tasks’ such as project tasks, reports, calls, e-mails, analysis, reading and so on in a central, visible place.  What I mean by a ‘flexible task’ is that it is not time bound and can be done at any time to meet the due date. 

These lists can be created in a variety of ways from Outlook, Mobile Apps on handheld devices, Excel, One Note, CRM generated task list to a reminder post it note.

I agree that only 50% of the tasks are completed.   A ‘to-do-list’ is a moving target which is subject to constantly changing priorities, the skill is to work with a dynamic list by which we measure the incoming work and consistently make decision about what is the most important work to do first.

In a business world where there is too much work and not enough time it’s no longer about getting all the work done; let’s change the mind set to do less and achieve more of the high value work.    A good question to continually ask is ‘what is the value of me doing this and what will be the return on investment of this time?’

Here are some tips I’d like to share for an effective task list –

  • Break tasks down into actions, use action verbs i.e. call, reply, analyse, read, review sign off and so on.
  • Highlight high value tasks so they are the ones you tick off first and if this is all you get done for the day great – remember the Pareto Principle 20% of the right tasks will give you 80% of your results.
  • Create a dynamic task flow, what and when are you doing a task. This is why the task flow in our desktop technology is great.
  • Don’t focus on the due date; focus on the start date – when do I need to do this task to meet the due date.
  • Spread out the workload; break the old to do list lineal list habit.
  • Don’t let your inbox become your to do list – work comes to us from many sources
  • If there is a lot of meetings don’t schedule a lot of tasks on the same day.


There has never been a time when so much work is coming to us so fast and with so many changes.    I agree with Richard Branson I’m continually surprised how we expect ourselves to remember what we need to do and when we need to do it.

I somehow feel this a transference issue due to the mobile device in our hand and the belief that it will somehow help us not only remember what we need to do and when but of course everything that has been said.

Somehow this belief is a little bit like being off with pixies; of course this is my opinion and opinions are like belly buttons we all have one….

If you found this helpful, please share it with your connections and I’d love to hear from you too…please share your thoughts in the comments below… 🙂

Christine Petersen is an authority on Time Management, Productivity and Workflow Management solutions. With over 20 years’ experience working with in excess of 20,000 Senior Managers internationally, Christine has a passion for rigorous processes and the effective use of business technology.