Is Your To-Do List Actually Just A Productivity-Killing “List Of Shame”?

If it is, data shows, you won’t be able to get anything done.

Is Your To-Do List Actually Just A Productivity-Killing “List Of Shame”?
[Image: Flickr user Chris Lott]

As I was talking with Any.DO founder and CEO Omer Perchik for an upcoming issue of Fast Company, he said something that helped me understand why such a seemingly simple thing like a to-do list can be so frustrating.


As Omer Perchik, the founder and CEO of to-do app Any.DO, was uncovering why people do–or don’t–stick with a to-do list, he discovered that some people were initally getting into the productivity app but then wouldn’t stick around.

Why? Because they weren’t organizing their tasks across multiple days, and the tasks would become overwhelming.

“A lot of people would put everything under ‘today,'” he says. “Most of them won’t use the app anymore, because it becomes a list of shame. “

And shame, as sociologist-author Brene Brown has told us, tends to stifle people and, we can infer, their to-do lists.

This shows again that the productivity question is actually a psychological one: Perchick, the Any.DO founder, refers to his app as a “life management” app rather than a “task management” one.

But why is it so hard to manage our tasks–and our lives?


Because having too many choices overwhelms us. Because, as writer Daniel Markovitz notes, some tasks are way, way bigger than others–you might call them projects, goals, or dreams instead–and so you’ll naturally default to the easy over the difficult–though those same tasks might be way, way more important than others.

If we’re going to get our to-do lists in order, we can do a few things. First, break those bigger projects into their component parts, as an app like Everest might help us do. Second, take a moment to figure out what our high-priority tasks within those bigger tasks are–are make sure those are bite-size enough to get them done today. Third, shamelessly push those tougher tasks down our calendar.

“The people who do manage themselves have three, four, five tasks per day, and they actually get it done,” Perchik, the Any.DO founder, says. “People who distribute their tasks across today, tomorrow, and Sunday, are the people that are doing a good job and will most likely become active (users) for a long period of time.”

Bottom Line: Be super conscious of what you can actually get done today. The 1-3-5 Rule postulates that you can get “one big mission, three medium tasks, and five small things” done within a day.

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.