Making a list is not productive

Listen on:

I LOVE a good list. There’s something so satisfying about sitting down, focusing on all my to-do’s and putting it on paper. It’s like I have permission to stop trying to remembering it once I’ve written it down.

I’ve created all sorts of crazy list systems and am always on the hunt for new and better tools. Bullet journals? I’m all in. Work to do’s broken down by step and added to my calendar? Sign me up. Color coded personal to-do’s? Pass the markers. I won’t even go into how many planners I have and keep buying. I just love being organized and having a clear list.

However, recently I realized that while I told myself lists were helping me be productive, in reality they were the least productive thing I could do.

I was using list making as a way to buffer. Buffering is when we use external things to feel better. It’s avoiding and procrastinating because we don’t want to feel negative emotions.

I would review my calendar and projects and feel overwhelmed. Lists were my perfect solution. They make me so happy. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with making lists, but when you make them to avoid actually doing the work, they are not really helping.

If you are feeling overwhelmed because you are thinking about all the things you need to do, the more productive thing is not to organize all the things to do, but to ACTUALLY DO THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO.

So next time you go to make a list, ask yourself if it’s really helping or if it’s just a fun way to procrastinate and put things off. If it’s a fun way to procrastinate, try skipping the list and getting to work.

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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman

I spent the last ~12 years growing my career at Amazon. I’ve built teams, launched new products, and created my own jobs. As a certified coach, I teach people how to manage the noise in their head to feel motivated and valued at work again.

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