The to-do list. One of the ancient productivity tools used by many knowledge workers around the world. It helps to organize your work and give structure to your day. Yet, I haven’t used a to-do list for more than a year now. Despite its popularity, the to-do list may not be as effective as we all think it is...
Having a to-do list is already much better than not having one at all, but it’s still a very incomplete productivity tool. The problem is, a to-do list is merely a collection of the tasks that you want to get done, but it doesn’t indicate how important each to-do actually is. This can lure you into a false sense of productivity.
For example, when you tackle 70% — 80% of your to-do list, you feel pretty productive right? I mean, most of us are never able to tackle all tasks on our to-do list, so getting about 80% done is quite good. However, this can create an enormous false sense of productivity that can completely sabotage your success.
The thing is, our brain is just like a river flowing down a mountain, it chooses the path of least resistance. In other words, it prefers to do easier tasks and avoid the more challenging ones.
From an evolutionary point of view, this makes sense. Our brain still runs on very old software from a time in which there was a scarcity of food and an abundance of threats. Thus, even today, it still pushes you to save as much energy as possible.
Since easier tasks require less energy than complex tasks, our odds of survival increase when we procrastinate on the complex work and do the easy stuff instead. It’s how we can save the energy that our brain thinks we need in order to survive. That’s why you feel a lot more resistance towards working on challenging tasks compared to tackling easier tasks.
While in fact, the most challenging tasks are often also the most valuable and important tasks that contribute to the most significant progress towards your goals. They require unique skills and deep thinking in order to complete and are therefore more valuable than other tasks. Easy tasks, at best, contribute only incrementally to the achievement of your goals.
So, after a day of ‘hard work’ in which you completed 23 to-do’s from your to-do list, you feel incredibly productive. While in reality, you were merely busy and didn’t create any real value or made any significant progress on your goals.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This, in fact, is called ‘productive procrastination’. You continue to procrastinate on the most important tasks while feeling productive about yourself since you’ve been busy all day. It’s one of the silent killers of your productivity that’s secretly sabotaging your success.
Free Guide: 27 Productivity 'Hacks' For Superhuman Performance
Learn how to get more done, stop procrastinating, and work with laser-focus using SMART productivity techniques...
Instead of using a to-do list, I like to use something called the ‘ABCDE Method’, which I learned from Brian Tracy. In fact, the ABCDE Method is like a to-do list on steroids. Some people refer to it as a ‘success list’ as it helps to identify the items that lead to success while also identifying the items that are merely distractions.
All in all, the ABCDE Method is a great tool to prioritize effectively, which is one of the most important parts of improving your productivity and achieving better results.
Just like with a to-do list, you start by writing down all the items that you want to get done today. Then, assign either an A, B, C, D or E to each of the items on your list.
A-Items: Assign an A to the 1–3 items that are your most valuable, highest priority tasks. These tasks truly bring you closer to the achievement of your most important goals. A-tasks have the biggest potential downside if you don’t accomplish them, and the biggest potential upside if you do accomplish them. If you have more than 3 A-items on your list, you should prioritize them more strictly until you have only 3 left. You never want to procrastinate on your A-tasks, so you should resolve to tackle them before the other items on your list.
B-Items: Assign a B to the items that are somewhat valuable and are nice to complete. These tasks have some downside if you don’t complete them, and some upside if you do complete them. They contribute to the achievement of your most important goals, but not as much as A-tasks. Once again, make sure that you tackle your A-items before you move on to your B-items.
C-Items: Assign a C to the items that don’t really contribute to the achievement of your goals. These tasks are the ones that we love to work on because they are often easy and quick to accomplish. While in reality, they don’t contribute that much at all. If you procrastinate on these tasks, it’s not as bad as compared to procrastinating on A- or B-Items.
D-Items: Assign a D to all the items that you can Delegate to other people who can do it cheaper, better or faster. You shouldn’t spend your time on these tasks as your time is more valuable. Instead, you should spend your time primarily on A-items. If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, check out Fiverr, Upwork or hire a VA (virtual assistant) to delegate certain tasks.
E-Items: Assign an E to all the items that you can Eliminate. After careful analysis, you come to the conclusion that they aren’t necessary after all. It might be that by focusing primarily on your A and B-tasks, they make other tasks unnecessary, so you can assign an E to these tasks.
It is possible to have multiple tasks from the same category (for example, multiple A-tasks). In that case, rank them by priority by giving them a number. Always assign a ‘1’ to the highest value task. For example, A1 is your highest priority, followed by A2 and then A3. Makes sense?
I use the ABCDE Method every single day and it has become one of my most impactful tools in my productivity toolbox. Through the ABCDE Method, I’m able to prioritize my daily tasks so that I no longer bullshit myself by feeling productive while I was merely being busy with easy and lower value task.
Instead, I know that my day is truly spent productively as I’m crushing my most valuable and most important tasks. And yes, this might mean that a day in which I tackled only 3 items is 10x more productive compared to a day in which I tackled 23 items.
At first, this feels very unfamiliar and it might actually make you feel less productive because you’re doing less.
But remember, real productivity is measured through what you accomplish and the value that creates — not through the number of tasks you tackle or the number of hours you work.
"Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… It’s more about priorities, planning and fiercely protecting your time." — Margarita Tartakovsky
Being productive is not about doing a lot of things. Rather it’s about doing those high-value tasks that get you real results. That’s what propels you towards achieving your goals a lot faster compared to just staying busy with low-value tasks.
I highly encourage you to try the ABCDE Method for yourself. For your next workday, rank your tasks based on priority by using the ABCDE Method and see how much more productive you are.
It may feel a bit weird in the beginning, as the pull to work on easy tasks first is such an ingrained habit for most of us — but it will be worth the initial adjustment.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab