What do you do when Sir Richard Branson calls you out publicly on his blog? You challenge him to a $25,000 wager for charity, of course!
Last month, I made a $25,000 bet with Sir Richard Branson that I could convince him that scheduling all tasks on your calendar is more effective than writing them on a to-do list. And by “made a bet,” I mean I reached out to him through his team to suggest the wager and its terms, and I just got an email response back. But before I reveal his response…
It all started when Branson mentioned me on his blog, and let the world know that he strongly disagreed with my recommendation that you should stop using a to-do list if you want to achieve extreme productivity.
I felt wronged. Well, not exactly wronged. OK, actually I felt delighted. Richard Branson knows my name! Think of the free publicity this will generate for my book!
But it did sting on some levels. Branson was misrepresenting my position on to-do lists, he repeated a newspaper’s misquote, and he confused the to-do list issue with other topics like notebooks and note taking and gratitude lists. So I issued my challenge:
Sir Richard! I’d like to challenge you to a $25,000 wager for Virgin Unite. I’m afraid your blog post doesn’t quite do my position justice. I believe that I can fly down to Necker Island, and in just 30 minutes I’ll convince you to give up your to-do list. If I lose, I’ll contribute $25,000 to Virgin Unite. If I win, you’ll hand over your final to-do list to me as a souvenir. Do you accept?
And of course, I’ll donate the $25,000 to Virgin Unite whether I win or lose; it’s the bragging rights that count!
So how would I win the debate?
Based on the online hysteria around this topic, most people seem to have a knee-jerk visceral reaction to the idea of throwing out their to-do list. It’s as if I’m suggesting it’s time to give up their Binky or favorite wubby. Online trolls have attacked me with nonsensical statements like, “Mr. Kruse is a hypocrite, I’m sure he uses a grocery list!” What does that have to do with anything?
Let me be clear on my position:
- I’m not against lists.
- I’m not against to-do lists either for average needs and performance.
- But for extreme productivity, there is something better, which is a calendar.
The reality is that different productivity tools will work up to a certain level of productivity demands.
For example, your memory works pretty well if your only task for the weekend is to mow the lawn. You might forget on Saturday morning, you might procrastinate on Sunday, but Sunday night is the latest you’ll probably be out there pushing your mower.
- For a small number of tasks, using your memory may be effective.
- For an average number of tasks, listing them on your to-do list is better than relying on your memory.
- For a large number of tasks, scheduling them on your calendar is more effective than a to-do list.
But let’s say you have many more items to get done this weekend. Mow the lawn, fix a closet door, wash the windows, weed the garden, shop for your spouse’s birthday, go to Cara’s soccer game, finish that presentation due on Monday morning, go grocery shopping, go to the liquor store, and try to get a workout in. Suddenly just using your mind—trying to remember everything—comes with risk. The odds of forgetting something or running out of time due to poor planning are very high. To ease your mental burden, and make sure it all gets done, you could list them all out on your to-do list. Yes, a to-do list is better than nothing.
But what happens at the next level? What happens when you end up with literally 40 or more things to do in a given day, or you have fewer tasks but the consequences of missing one are great? Now hopefully you don’t have this many things to do on a weekend, but in my interviews with hundreds of ultra-high achievers, it was not uncommon to hear that they have dozens of calls, meetings and other tasks in any one day. This is the level of extreme productivity.
It turns out that most of us just keep adding more and more things to our to-do list. A recent study indicated that 41% of all to-do list items are never done, and almost half of the tasks that are completed were put on the list the very same day. In other words, we tend to do the urgent instead of the important. We do the quick and easy instead of the long and hard. And all these items on our never ending to-do list tend to weigh on us and lead to stress in what is known as the Zeigarnik effect.
So what’s better than a to-do list? For extreme productivity you want to stop listing and start scheduling.
Too many people only use their calendar for phone calls and meetings. But in my interviews with over 200 self-made millionaires, Olympians, CEOs and straight-A students, I learned that most of them schedule everything (usually in 15-minute blocks of time).
If you want to move from average levels of productivity to extreme productivity, ditch your to-do list and live from your calendar. You literally should transfer all those tasks off your list and into a specific date, time and duration. And then just live from your calendar. Suddenly, you’ll have a solid and realistic plan for when you’ll get everything done, and perhaps be more realistic before saying “yes” to new opportunities. (If it feels better to you, print out your daily calendar each morning and just check off the events as if it’s your to-do list for the day.)
Oh, so what was Richard Branson’s response to my $25,000 challenge for charity? I just received a very nice email response from the people at Virgin Unite. They let me know that my wager was presented but Branson turned down my challenge. Apparently, he just doesn’t have the time to meet with me.
Kevin Kruse is the author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management and the one-page tool, How Millionaires Schedule Their Day.