It’s 5:00 AM.
Your alarm goes off and you thrust your hand towards your phone in an effort to turn it off. You miss and hit your hand against your desk.
If the jarring sound didn’t wake you up, the pain in your fingers sure did. You turn off your alarm and slowly make your way over to your laptop to sit down.
Sitting on your desk is a large yellow legal pad with small scribbling. This is the to do list you created the night before.
Time to get to work…
Like most other young creators you’ve probably spent the majority of your career putting items down on paper and crossing them off as they get done.
We’ve all been sold on the idea that this is the best way to be productive but is there any truth to that?
I recently read an article by Kevin Kruse titled “Millionaires Don’t Use To-Do Lists”.
Here’s an excerpt:
In my research into time management and productivity, I’ve interviewed over 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students and entrepreneurs. I always ask them to give me their best time management and productivity advice. And none of them have ever mentioned a to-do list.
The rest of the article goes on to talk about why it’s much more effective to block all of your important items into a calendar and live out your day based on what the calendar says.
The idea intrigued me so, like any good curiosity filled creator, I wanted to do a bit more research as to why calendars might be more effective than a to do list. There are 3 main reasons.
The Psychology of Push Notifications & Self Programming
Have you ever downloaded one of those annoying “freemium” smart phone games? If you have then you are extremely familiar with push notifications. Whenever you play one of these games the goal is always to get you back into the game. The more times you play, the higher the likelihood that you’ll buy something. To do this, the developers program the game to send little pings to your phone whenever certain criteria are met.
This stuff works incredibly well and is the main reason that these games are able to rake in crazy amounts of money from in-game sales.
As this TechCrunch article points out, push notifications are the modern day version of Pavlov’s bell.
They work by programing us to respond in a certain way each time it happens, so the next time it happens we naturally respond in the way we were programmed to react. Just like a dog responding to a bell.
This is the psychology behind why calendars (with alerts) can be so powerful as a productivity tool. By plugging something into the calendar and setting an alert for it, you will create your very own push notification. When that alert goes off it will be a quick, yet effective, reminder to focus on the task and get the job done.
A Manufactured Sense of Urgency
If you’ve spent much time in the productivity world you have no doubt heard of the Pomodoro. Just in case you aren’t familiar though it’s a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo back in the late 80’s and it consists of 25 minute work periods followed by 5 minute breaks. Each 30 minute session is 1 Pomodoro and after 4 Pomodoros (or 2 hours) you can take a 10 minute break.
There are a few reasons this works so well but the important one for this article is the sense of urgency that the timer creates.
By putting the clock in front of you and seeing it slowly tick down the minutes it reminds you that each second is more important than the last.
Calendars are helpful for a similar reason. Once the alert goes off, and you begin working, you know that you only have until the next alert (which signifies the next task) to get things done. You can clearly see what needs to happen next so there is less freedom to push things back or continue working after the time limit.
This creates a sense of urgency that allows you to stay focused longer and get the task done with less unnecessary breaks required.
Bringing It full Circle: DO Away with To Do’s
The main problem with a to do list is that it does not account for the complexity of a task, priority of a task, or the length of time required to complete a task.
Sure you could write this stuff next to the item on the list, but without that immediate visual representation it doesn’t really stick and so it’s still easy to ask the question “what should I do next?”
Blocking your tasks into a calendar allows you to avoid this question altogether. But by pre-planning the day and putting every hour into the visual calendar you never have to worry about what to do next, just look at your screen and it will tell you.
This on it’s own can improve productivity and reduce overall frustration when trying to complete large projects.
So if Millionaires and Billionaires don’t see the need for a to do list, why do you?
I have a challenge for you:
For the next 7 days try blocking off your workday on a calendar and setting alerts for each task. Don’t do this absent mindedly, when working with the calendar you can very visually see how limited your time is so make sure you are putting a lot of thought into what items make it on.
Try it out for the next 7 days and if you are able to do it I want you to reach out to me on Twitter and let me know how it went. My handle iswww.twitter.com/greggclunis.
Think you’re up to it?
By: Gregg Clunis
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