Canadian Lawyer

November 2021

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36 www.canadianlawyermag.com FEATURE PRODUCTIVITY After all, the go-to piece of advice we've been given since grade school when we're feeling overwhelmed is to "make a list and start crossing things off." While it sounds lovely in theory, once we set off on our to-do writing journey, we quickly discover a major problem. In our race to the bottom of the list, we realize there is no bottom. This fascinating phenomenon, along with a handful of others, is what makes to-do lists so incredibly unproductive. Let me explain. We are terrible at estimating how long tasks take. Elon Musk is arguably one of the most brilliant minds alive today, yet even he has an issue with underestimating how long a task may take. Time and time again, he has set a date for the release of a new model or a production number. And time and time again, he has missed the deadline. In an interview with The Washington Post, Musk said, "I think I do have, like, an issue with time … I'm a naturally optimistic person. I wouldn't have cars or rockets if I wasn't. I'm trying to recalibrate as much as possible." If you ask his brother, Kimbal, this compli- cated relationship with time has been present since childhood. When they were children, Kimbal Musk (who currently sits on Tesla's board) would actually lie to his older brother about the time the school bus would arrive, knowing that Elon would show up late. Elon Musk isn't the only adult alive today who grew up missing the bus and still suffers from lingering time estimation problems. A recent study found that only 17% of the population can accurately estimate the time something will take. With to-do lists, what happens is that we optimistically assume most of the day's tasks will take less time than they'll actually take. And, in our caffeine-fuelled to-do-list scrib- bling, we load up the day with lengthy tasks we think we can get done in a few minutes. This, of course, causes the to-do list to roll into tomorrow … which brings me to my next point: When was the last time you actually crossed everything off your to-do list? In addition to horrible time estimation, the reason to-do lists roll into the next day is they place us into a mindset where every- thing must go on the list, regardless of the level of impact it has on our day — or how much value it adds. In many ways, to-do lists cause us to be overly proactive in our thinking. Which, in turn, causes us to put a greater emphasis on tasks that, in the broader scheme of things, aren't that important. In addition, they also hinder us from feeling a sense of completion with our day and our work. Nobody who trudges home with a half-completed to-do list feels like they owned the day. Instead, they feel like the day owned them. To-do lists also allow us to avoid the most important tasks of the day — they aren't unlike email in that way. Take a look at the to-do list I put together below as an example. Let's pretend it belongs to a sales profes- sional who works for a technology startup. • Get email inbox to zero • Catch up on Slack messages • Follow up with Paul about lunch tomorrow • Stop by the grocery • Meet with the marketing team for a brain- storming session • Make 50 cold calls to potential leads • Do a couple loads of laundry • Clean the house Now, it doesn't take a productivity guru to recognize the most important task on the list above is to "make 50 cold calls to poten- tial leads." Sure, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, grabbing groceries, following up with Paul and managing your email inbox might be nice, but they aren't going to create the most impact for the day. If you're a sales professional (where you get paid to make sales), you better make sure you're knocking out your 50 cold calls for the day. Many times people use to-do lists to avoid doing the things they don't want to do. Which is unfortunate, considering that the things we don't want to do tend to be the things we actually need to be doing. The to-do list's better-looking brother Scheduling works differently for everyone. If to-do lists work well for you, keep making them. However, I would like to offer an alternative. I call it the 'hunter' strategy. Long ago, before we had a fridge full of food within arm's reach at all hours of the day, people survived by hunting. If the hunter made a successful hunt that day, his family would eat. If not, they wouldn't. It was that simple. He didn't have time to check email, attend time-sucking meetings or send follow-up emails. And he certainly didn't have time to make to-do lists. No, he had to wake up every single day with one goal in mind: to make a successful hunt. When it comes to scheduling, this is a great mindset to have. Instead of writing down dozens of tasks that you need to get done each day, choose one that must get done and will deliver the most impact. In Gary Keller's best-selling book, The One Thing, he argues that "long hours spent To-do lists place us into a mindset where everything must go on the list, regardless of the level of impact it has on our day — or how much value it adds.

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