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Why Millionaires Don’t Use To-Do Lists


Today, we’re going to talk about why high achievers and ultra productive people don’t use to do lists and what they use instead.

What you’re going to learn:

  • The truth about to-do lists and why they’re making you unproductive and stressed out
  • What millionaires and high achievers use instead of to-do lists
  • How to use the same tool to get your own goals accomplished on time

Key Quotes:

“Throw away your to do list. Toss it out the window, burn it, stomp on it, tear it into a million pieces and toss them into the wind like confetti.” 

“You run the day or the day runs you.”

Read Full Transcript

Hey, hey, welcome everyone. I’m Kevin Kruse and I interviewed over 200 self-made millionaires and successful entrepreneurs—like the cofounders of Facebook, Zynga, Groupon, Atlassian and also successful solopreneurs like Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas all to discover their secrets to extreme productivity.

In the previous episode I gave you simple questions to zero in on your Most Important Task and talked about the power of proper priorities.

Today we’re talking about why high achievers ultra productive people don’t use to do lists!

But first, if you want to 10x your productivity grab your smartphone and text the word ACHIEVE to 44222 and I’ll send you The 1-Page Planning Tool That Millionaire’s Use To Schedule Their Day. Just text ACHIEVE to 44222 or you can visit the website to download the 1-Page Planning Tool that Millionaire’s Use To Schedule Their Day and other bonuses.

Let me ask you this, do you really think back in the day Steve Jobs just kept a running task list in his pocket and would pull out that little piece of paper and ask himself several times a day, what’s my next action? If you are not a Steve Jobs or an Apple fan, put in whoever your productivity superhero is, whether that’s Bill Gates or Michael Dell or any of these kinds of guys. Do you think they’re just running around with that long to do list picking things off throughout the day? Let’s get out of business, do you think extreme athletes, professional athletes are working and running their life off a to do list? Does a quarterback say, “Wow, I got a big game on Sunday, let me wake-up and look at my to do list and get to it?” That’s not how they work, that’s not how they live. To-do lists should be called, nagging wish lists.

A whole bunch of tasks that you hope to accomplish, you think you’re supposed to accomplish but you don’t have a specific plan as to when you’re going to get it all done. How many things on your current to-to list, be honest, have been there for days or even months. There was a time when I had some items on my list for more than a year, like you know, get the 2012 family photo album done. I think that was on the list for several years. Research was done in 2014 and was published in a guide, if you want to start googling around. The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List and they found that 41% of to do list items are never completed, 41% are never completed. 50% of the to do list items that are completed are completed within a day and many of those within an hour of it being written down. It’s almost like, we write it on the to do list and then cross it off right away so we can feel productive. Here’s the problem, to do lists are, it’s a technology that’s 120 years old.

The story goes that to do lists were invented by a guy names Ivy Lee. He was a consultant that was hire by Charles Schwabb who was running U.S steel at the time and Schwabb said, ” Hey. I want my executives to get more stuff done, you know, to be better with their time.” Ivy Lee said, ” All right, here’s the answer, at the beginning of the day, I want you all to take out a piece of paper and write down 6 things that you’d like to do and start working on the first item and then work on it until it’s done and then move on to the second item and keep going through your list until it is time to go home.” Well, that sounds really quaint. Only 6 items and work on stuff until it’s time to go home but that was 120 years ago. When people worked an 8 hour day and was more about put clock in your time in instead of this round the clock, never ending cycle. You know the world was round and not flat, meaning you worked in one time zone and not multiple time zones.

It wasn’t as competitive, these were companies and businesses that had monopolies. Every executive had their own secretary, you know, called secretaries back then. It was just a completely different time and look, to do lists work today if you don’t have much to do. If you only have a handful of things to do, sure write them down, cross them off. For most of us, we’re talking about high achievers, we’re talking about extreme productivity. How do we get in the top 10% or even 1% when it comes to getting things done? This shows why, people always ask me, “Does the world really need another time management book? Why are you working on that Kevin?” The fact that we’ve been taught to use to-do lists all this time, all the books are about to-do lists, all the time management courses are about to-do lists and yet, here we are. Do you feel any less stressed? You know, we’re over-scheduled overworked and overwhelmed. I like to say, “We’re fatigued, we’re frazzled, we’re frustrated, we’re totally effed because of the to-do list.”

Listen, to do lists they’re the graveyards of important but not urgent tasks and the reason why is even when you try to prioritize them, we don’t distinguish our to do list. What is going to take a few minutes vs. what’s going to take an hour or more so we generally just say, “What are we going to tackle next?” And we gravitate to the ones that are real fast, you know the ones the we can cross off within the hour. It makes it really easy to work on the urgent stuff instead of the important, Ooh, this feels like it’s a burning fire, let me work on that. To do lists also cause undue stress, the psychologists call this the Zeigarnik effect. When our minds, when our subconscious knows we got stuff to do and there’s no plan to do it, it eats at us, it stresses us out. That’s why at night we go home and we’re exhausted and we collapse in the bed and then we can’t fall asleep. You know we’ve got insomnia because out brain’s churning on all those things that we still have to do.

What’s the answer? Highly successful people don’t have a to do list but they have a very well kept calendar. Ultra productive people live from their calendar. Now you’re probably like disappointed with the surprise answer but sometimes the simple stuff is hard to implement and still life changing, career changing when it’s done right. This was one of the most consistent messages I got from all of the people I interviewed, from all the research. If you truly want to get something done, if you truly plan on doing it, put it on your calendar. Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of the Art of Charm, its a podcast and a school and course that teaches people networking and relationship skills. He told me this, he says, “Listen, use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15 minute blocks. It sounds like a pain but this will set you up in the 95 percentile as far as organization goes. If it’s not on the calendar it doesn’t get done. If it’s on the calendar, it gets done no matter what. Use this not just for appointments but for workouts, calls, emails blocks et cetera.”

Notice the 15 minute blocks ultra productive people know the power of 1440. There’s 1,440 minutes in a day. It’s true that by default Outlook and Google calendar is going to open up an event for 30 minutes or 60 minutes. Change that. You can change that in the settings done to 15 minutes. Marissa Mayor runs 10 minute long meetings because she is doing so many meetings. Serial entrepreneur, best selling author Chris Ducker told me what’s his secret to success? What’s his secret to productivity? “I simply put everything on my schedule, that’s it. Everything I do on a day to day basis gets put on my schedule, 30 minutes of social media, on the schedule, 45 minutes of email management, on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team, on the schedule, quiet time to contemplate and plan, on the schedule.”

Shannon Miller, won more Olympic medals than any other gymnast. She told me that she learned it back when she was an athlete and she’s doing it now that she has, you know, her own business. She schedules her life down to the minute. CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner wrote a blog post about this, about how his entire day is scheduled and he schedules buffer time. 30 minute blocks throughout the day for him to catch up or to sit quietly and to think. To regroup so that he’s not running around like a crazy maniac. He says, “It felt like a luxury, I felt guilty about it at first but being mindful, being present, being strategic, focused on the right things is the right thing to do.” When you move from a to-do list to a calendar, all of a sudden you can manage distractions so much better. You know you’re not checking email throughout the day as thinking you are being productive when really it’s just a procrastination technique. You’re not checking in to Snapchat or Facebook or Twitter throughout the entire day.

You can process social media, you can process email but you’ve got a time for it and limits on it. Listen, I know I am going to be doing social media 30 minutes this afternoon, so I am not going to hop on it 50 times between now and then. The other reason why putting everything on your calendar is so important and effective is it makes sure that the urgent items don’t erase the important items. Think about Jeff Weiner and Chris Ducker, they’re even scheduling their quiet time, their creative time, their strategic time. Now I talked about in the last episode, Identify your most important task and time block it. You should have at least an hour, if not 90 minutes or 2 hours of a recurring time block, five days a week on you calendar. Okay from 9-10:30 that’s MIT time and I’ll jot in the specific MIT on a day to day basis but it’s just time blocked there. Don’t ask me to have a coffee meeting at 9:30 in the morning because that’s my MIT time.

The other reason when you time block all of your work and life activities is that it makes it more realistic in terms of saying yes to items or saying no to items. “Oh, you want to get together and catch up and pick my brain over coffee. Hey, sure I’d love to do that, that’s great,” but instead of saying, “Yes let’s do it tomorrow because there is a blank slot on my calendar” and now pushing all my to-do list down another 2 hours at least because I’ve now got this coffee time. I’m going to open the calendar and if the time slot isn’t available tomorrow for catching up with people or for networking or whatever you want to classify that. I’m going to say, “You know what, we can grab coffee but all of my calendar is full until 3 weeks from now. How’s Friday the 21st at 10 am, I’ve got a time block there?”

That was something I learned from Dave Kerpen, he said, “Listen, I value making new friends and getting back to people including strangers, so I don’t just ignore all of those emails that come in. People saying, hey can I pick you’re brain. Can we jump on the phone. I just time block it. I’ve got 1 hour a week dedicated to talking to random people on the phone and when someone asks to get together, I send them my calendar link and they get into the first slot. If I got 15 minutes free this Thursday, fantastic but maybe I’m booked up for the next 5 weeks.” He’s not saying, “No.” He’s not saying, “I never do that thing.” He’s allocated time for it, whether that’s an hour a week, a day week, whatever you want to do and then when it’s full, It’s full. When you really get in tune with time blocking on your calendar, you can look at your week and see your true values.

They say we can tell what a person truly values by looking at their checkbook and their calendar. You know, how are they spending their money? How are they spending their time? You say that you value your marriage? Well, why don’t we see date night time blocked on your calendar once a week? You say that your kids are one of the highest priorities and values but have you already put all of their soccer games on to your schedule for the season? Did you already time block all of their practices and their dance performances and all of those things? Why is that not on your calendar? You say that in my own case, something I learned, I value my team members both because I want to coach them and help them from a humanistic reason and because it makes sense. You know everybody that reports to me, if I can upgrade their skills quickly, then they’re going to do better for my business.

Every Monday, I time block one on one time for each of my direct reports. Now look, they might not get a whole lot of my attention Tuesday through Friday because I have other time blocks but they know they are always going to get my attention, one on one for 30-60 minutes every single Monday. I value my health so I time block 60 minutes of workout times on a daily basis. Another thing is once you’ve identified your values, you’ve time blocked all of this, then you need to protect the time like it’s a doctors appointment. You know someone wants to get together. Your boss wants to talk to you, it’s like okay I can but I got a doctor appointment can we do it another time? If not it’s okay, I can reschedule. That’s the other take away. You don’t just cancel your doctor appointment, you reschedule it. I think you’ve got the idea and it’s amazing. Once you’ve put everything from your to do list on to your calendar, that Zeigarnik effect disappears. Your subconscious knows yeah you’ve got a lot of stuff to do but there’s a plan for it.

You’ve got a time already allocated on this day and this time, you’re going to work on it. All of a sudden that insomnia and all that chatter in your subconscious goes away. How do you apply the really specifically? If you are not already using an online or digital calendar, I suggest you get one. I use Google calendar. In the past I used Outlook calendar. There’s great calendar apps. Just pick something that can be synchronized across your devices that’s available online remotely that you might want to share with some virtual assistance or your admin or some partners and then look at your to do list. Take all those items on your to do list and schedule time to get them done. Even if it’s a non-urgent non-important item, lie work on the family photo album or whatever that is. Okay, put it 3 months from now and on a Sunday afternoon get It all out of your mind, out of your to do list piece of paper and get it on your calendar and throw away that to do list.

Toss it out the window, burn it in the fireplace, tear it up and you know, yell hip, hip, hooray and toss the confetti in the air because now you are gong to sleep well tonight knowing exactly what you need to do and that you’ve got a plan to get it done. You need to stop using a to do list and start living your life from the calendar. You run the day, or the day runs you. All right, thank you again for joining me on this episode of The Extreme Productivity Podcast. Don’t forget, if you want to download that one page finding tool that millionaires use to schedule their day, just visit extreme-productivity.Com or text the word “achieve” to 44222 and come back for the next episode. You are going to learn that there are 4 types of procrastinators. What is your procrastination personality? Find out on the next episode, until then remember, master your minutes to master your life.