Why high-performers don’t use to-do lists

Aytekin Tank
The Startup
Published in
7 min readAug 20, 2018

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Originally published on JOTFORM.COM

There is a horror story out there.

Man is feeling overwhelmed, begins compiling a to-do list.

Three bullets turn into ten — ten bullets turn into twenty.

Moments later, he finds himself in hand-to-hand combat with a to-do list so long and so vast it resembles the spiraling tentacles of a giant squid.

He loads himself up with enough caffeine to fuel an entire city and begins his slow tedious descent to the bottom, crossing each line off the to-do list one at a time.

Shortly into his battle, he makes a terrifying realization — the to-do list is like a regenerating monster right out of a terror flick — for each line he crosses off another three lines appear at the bottom.

He screams. He jumps out of his office window. Thankfully he is on the first floor so he essentially just steps into a large shrub scaring a small family of opossums.

As he begins to sob hysterically, he hears the unraveling of the wretched to-do list drawing ever closer. He turns, it envelopes him, then pulls him back into the deep dark depths of his office.

He is consumed by the monster of his own creation.

It’s a race to the bottom, except there is no bottom.

Nearly all of us have fallen victim to the to-do list at least once in our lives.

After all, the go-to piece of advice we’ve been told since grade school during feelings of overwhelm is, “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.

To-do lists can be incredibly unproductive.

At JotForm, we approach to-do lists with caution, too. After all, we can not and did not rely on to-do lists for many JotForm launches; like HIPAA, Summer Camp or PDF Editor.

Let me explain.

We are terrible at estimating how long tasks take.

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Aytekin Tank
The Startup

Founder and CEO of www.jotform.com || Bestselling author of Automate Your Busywork. Find more at https://aytekintank.com/ (contact: AytekinTank@Jotform.com)