Whenever people talk about time management, it doesn’t take long until the “to-do list” is mentioned in the conversation. While I think it is essential to write down important deadlines and keep track of the things you plan to accomplish during the day, I don’t really like the name “to-do list.” I think it encourages the notion that we don’t have control over our own time and that some magical deadline god is forcing us to do things. A “to-do list” sounds too much like a “have to-do list” to me.
In reality, everything we do during the day is our choice. I spent part of today writing a paper that I have due in December. Did I particularly want to spend my time that way today? No, and in fact it would be very easy for me to complain that I had to spend the day working and it was so horrible. But, the only reason I had to work on that paper today is because I’m choosing to be in grad school right now. Not only am I choosing to be in grad school, but I’m choosing to want to do well in my classes. I didn’t have to work on my paper today. I chose to. Did that make me any more excited to spend part of my weekend working? No, but if you view your daily tasks as choices rather than mandates it shifts the control from your work to you and control is a powerful thing.
Because the work we do is a choice, I advocate calling it a “choose-to list” instead of a “to-do list”. Calling it a “choose-to list” serves as a constant reminder that the things on it have value because you chose to put them there. If the things on your list don’t seem to have much value, then why are they there? Having a “choose-to list” causes you to constantly reassess whether the things you are doing are really worth your time. If they aren’t, get rid of them. If they are, then stop complaining, put your head down, and start grazing.