Is your 'to-do' list setting you up to fail?

Always falling short photo courtesy flickr user IvanWalsh.com

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Most people make "to-do" lists. According to a recent LinkedIn (LNKD) poll, 71 percent of women and 60 percent of men regularly write down their intended tasks. But only 11 percent of people actually make it through their lists.

In other words, most of us are experiencing failure every day -- and it's completely self-inflicted. After all, you create your to-do list. You decide what goes on there. And for most people, the list and life bear no resemblance to each other.

Why is that? I think to-do lists suffer from a few problems (see related post, The smart way to make a to-do list).

First, people put too many things on the list. According to LinkedIn, the primary reason people didn't finish the items on their to-do lists is that unplanned tasks like phone calls, emails, and meetings intervened. But these things fall into the category of what Donald Rumsfeld once called "known unknowns." You may not know what crisis will cause the emergency meetings this week, but you can bank on some crisis happening.

So best to construct your to-do list with that in mind. Keep track of your time for 168 hours (a week) and you'll start to see what percentage of your work hours you regularly devote to known unknowns. Then you can start creating shorter to-do lists that keep this figure in mind.

And second, people tend not to embrace their to-do lists because, well, they're full of stuff you don't really want to do. Why not put fun tasks on the to-do list as well? A to-do list that includes a 20-minute walk and a picnic lunch with some colleagues amid all those meetings and phone calls will be a lot more inviting to look at -- and perhaps easier to take seriously.

What do you put on your to-do list?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user IvanWalsh.com

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