For some aficionados, a to-do list is a talisman to ward off the steady creep of forgetfulness. For others, it’s a method to boost self-esteem or reduce clutter. Whatever its purpose, some advice for the uninitiated to avoid getting trampled: Never stand between a hippo and water or a lister and his list.
Oftentimes, list makers scorn the laggards among us whose failed efforts to become listers are symbolized by all the furry balls of illegible paper that get left behind in the washing machine.
In fact, to-do lists often aren’t the key to productivity they’re cracked up to be. Harold Taylor, a time-management consultant in Keswick, Ontario, says lists can become a procrastination tool. “The name of the game becomes getting as many things done as possible as opposed to getting the most important things done,” he says. He claims to know people who add tasks to their to-do lists after they’ve completed them just so they can cross them off. He adds that pocket computers can make things worse. “If you’re disorganized,” he says, “all this technology does is speed up your disorganization.”
Julie Morgenstern, a professional organizer and author of “Making Work Work,” estimates that as many as 30% of listers spend more time managing their lists than completing what’s on them. “It can be a sign of being overwhelmed,” she says. “They are more comfortable in the pause mode than the action mode. It’s safer to be planning than doing.”