We're all going To-Do list crazy! Survey Results

There’s a press release over at the Microsoft website entitled “Survey Shows Increasing Worldwide Reliance on To-Do Lists” which, oddly as the title indicates, talks about how more men and women are relying more and more on their to-do lists:

U. S. citizens reported the most dependency on to-do lists worldwide, with more than three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents currently keeping at least one list; some manage up to three or more lists concurrently. To-do lists are a stress management tool and have a calming effect on nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of people who responded in the United States, simply because everything is written down in front of them. Respondents in Canada are most likely to have a list, with 78 percent of respondents keeping at least one list. Japan is the least likely to make a to-do list, at only 54 percent.


% Questioned who use a list
Japan 54%
France 56%
UK 69%
Germany 70%
Spain 72%
U.S. 76%
Italy 77%
Canada 78%

The article didn’t really seem to mention what type of lists these are i.e paper-based, electronic, online (unless I missed it) which was a bit of a shame. The one thing I did find interesting was the following little statistic:

Respondents’ Most Number of Days an Item Has Ever Stayed on a To-Do List

Country No. Of Days
Italy 14
France 18
Spain 19
Japan 20
U.S. 22
Germany 24
Canada 26
UK 26

Tut-tut. Us Brits are leaving some items on our lists for almost an entire month before completing them. Mind you, it’s probably me that’s letting the side down. There’s one item that’s been languishing on my list for about 3 months now. It’s nothing big but I never seem to get around to doing it. It simply says “Clean your car” but I never seem to be in the right context or have the energy (plus this is England okay? It’s raining. Constantly. Especially at weekends. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

The problem with leaving items for this amount of time is:

  • They get pushed further up/down/off the list as new items are added
  • The longer you leave it, the less important it becomes/seems
  • It makes you feel guilty
  • You don’t think it matters – it’s waited this long, what harm’s another day?
  • It bugs the heck out of you and nags at the back of your brain like a woodpecker pecking at a tree

The question is, what can we do in this situation?

  • Bite the bullet and Just Do It
  • Ignore it and hope it goes away
  • Defer it (same as above really but sounds as though you’re going to do something about it sometime soon)
  • Find some other schmuck to do it Delegate it
  • Move it to your Someday/Maybe list
  • Pay someone to do it
  • Decide it’s not worth it and cross it off anyway

Our reliance on lists, which the article didn’t cover (but again I may have missed it – it’s a bad day okay?), is by-and-large down to our ever increasing work load both at work and home. We’re being asked to do more and being pulled in so many different directions that it’s no wonder we have to write  stuff down to keep track of it all.

The Flipping Heck! Poll

Over the past few months, I’ve been running a poll on the site (For my RSS reader’s it’s in the sidebar so you may not have seen it unless you visited this site) asking readers how they manage their To-Do lists and here are the results:

Method %
In My Head 44.47
Paper Based (e.g. Hipster PDA/Moleskine) 20.51
Electronic (e.g. Lotus Notes/Outlook etc) 14.52
Online (i.e. Remember the milk) 7.69
Other 6.83
Post-Its 5.98

So a really high percentage of people manage their lists in their heads. Personally this would make me go bananas, and certainly isn’t conducive to a Mind Like Water.

I was quite surprised (and happy) that Paper-Based lists are more popular than their electronic/online counterparts (well, okay add them together and they come to 22.21% but if you add Post-ItsTM to Paper then that comes in at 26.49% – hoorah!). We’re always being told that gadgets are the way forward, whether it be a PDA, smartphone, tablet PC or desktop and it would seem that we’re begining to rebel a bit.

I think the main thing when dealing with a To-Do list is to hold in a format you are happy with. If you detest technology then there’s no point putting your list on a PDA.

Another thing to remember is not to tinker with your system too much. Find a format and stick with it. If you bounce around from one shiny new thing to the next, all you do is spend half you life transferring list items from one to the other instead of actually doing anything that’s on the list!

For those of you who are interested, here are the results that came in under the “Other” answer in the poll – there are some strange people out there, I mean Belgium??!!

  • Both paper and iCal overlapped but not identical
  • Palm (Ed: I should have included this in electronic I guess)
  • PDA (Ed: and this one!)
  • todo.txt (Ed: Kinda electronic but not)
  • Flying in the wind  (Ed: Yes, the answer my friend is indeed there)
  • Chaos Theory  (Ed: Far too confusing for me)
  • Belgium  (Ed: Er…. no comment to this really except I got lost there once. Nice cobbles though).

Look out for another poll coming soon, and a hat tip to The Useful Technology Blog. for pointing me in the direction of the survey.

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    “Awesome post. I think that the hardest thing about organizing oneself, regardless of the method you use is the fact that ultimately no one can hold you accountable. It is much easier to make excuses as to why you cannot do something to yourself, rather than say, your boss.”


    “Great post. When I find myself putting off an item, I try to re-evaluate it and see if there’s another way to list it on my todo list so it is more appealing or more manageable.

    For example, I’d take your “”Clean the car”” action and turn it into a bunch of little ones – wipe down the dash, clean the windows, vacuum the carpet, take the car to a car wash, etc. I’d be much more likely to say “”Oh, hey, I can wipe down the dash in like 2 minutes, let’s do that”” than I would devote 30 minutes to cleaning the car. Before I know it, I’ve crossed off 3 or 4 little actions and achieved the big action I set out to achieve in the first place.


    “Thanks for the comments guys 🙂

    Ross – you’re completely right. Technically “”Clean my Car”” is a project, so should be on a projects list and my next action list should say something like “”Project: Car – Hoover carpet”” but unfortunately my brain isn’t wired that way, I just see the whole thing as “”something”” that needs to be done really. It shouldn’t happen – and doesn’t happen with my Web development projects (have a look at my post on my GTD Setup to see what weird things go on in my brain)

    Ana – I just love making excuses. In fact, if there was a medal for excuses at the Olympics, I’d win Silver (There’s an excuse as to why I wouldn’t win gold, honest).”

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