Rethink your to-do lists

to-do lists

All those to-do lists that never seem to get checked off: why do we do this to ourselves? Perhaps it is time to de-chore our lives?

As far as British business psychologist and author of Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much Tony Crabbe is concerned, to-do lists belong in the trash. He believes that smart planning doesn’t mean you can get everything done — we simply must make tough choices and this means we can’t do everything.

“The things that are really important to us, like spending time with our children, seeing our friends more often or finally writing that book never appear on our to-do lists,” he says in an interview with Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. “If a list like this is the manual, by definition you are not doing what is most important to you.” How often do people say, ‘If I had more time, I would play tennis/learn Arabic/keep bees/buy a sailboat’? But it’s never going to happen if you take this approach. Crabbe’s advice? “Just do it.” Not later, but now.

American professor of psychology Barbara Fredrickson contends that positive emotions will get you farther in life. She is in favor of creating a ‘feel-list’ instead of a to-do list. Fredrickson believes that we spend too much time listing boring and necessary activities that just deplete our willpower. This takes most of the fun out of things and our to-do lists remain an energy-draining inner struggle.

According to her ‘broaden and build’ theory, we can achieve more with positive emotions. They give us energy, resulting in enthusiasm and a positive flow, whereas negative thoughts and feelings mostly just exhaust us. In her view, this is why it’s also good to schedule a few activities each day that make us happy. Don’t just put the ‘must-dos’ on the list (such as filing your tax return), but also that recipe you’ve been wanting to try out, drinking a cup of coffee with a co-worker or taking a walk.

  • Read the full article ‘To-do or not to-do list?’ in Issue 28.

Text Anneke Bots  Illustration Penelope Dullaghan

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