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Entrepreneur Recommends Abandoning To-Do Lists and Focusing on Top Priorities

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
May 2, 2023

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Despite decades of believing that to-do lists were the best way to stay organized, one entrepreneur has come to believe that they are counterproductive.

“They don’t account for the amount of energy, time, and prioritization that different tasks require,” Aytekin Tank, the founder and CEO of online form builder Jotform, wrote in Fast Company.

Such lists can foster a “busywork mindset, rather than lead[ing] to meaningful outcomes,” he wrote, because “each task"—such as checking email or making a call—"is given equal weight even when the time and focus to complete they may be radically different.” 

The easiest task is the one that will get priority, he wrote, quoting Daniel Markovitz in Harvard Business Review: “How often do you scan your list just so that you can pick off the ones you can finish in two minutes?”

Citing research that found that only 17 percent of people can accurately determine how much time a task will take, he noted that people overload to-do lists with tasks that take more time than people think they do. Emails, for example, require elements such as verifying information, doing research or checking in with others before responding.

“We leave our most meaningful and valuable tasks for last because they’re typically the hardest,” he wrote.

Instead, he wrote, “When working, you should also focus on your most important task first." He recommended writing down one’s biggest priority of the day on a sticky note and placing it somewhere noticeable to “keep your most important and meaningful task in mind.”

Aside from automating some tasks, such as paying bills, he offered a method for determining workers' top priorities: taking 15 minutes to sketch out the work that matters most to them and their career, then asking themselves what they enjoy doing the most and what delivers the most change.

“Ultimately, blasting through a to-do list of easy wins won’t facilitate your most fulfilling and productive work,” he concluded. “Spending time on what’s difficult is what will produce the most impactful outcomes.”