If your to-do list has more than three items, you are in trouble. Why? Because as soon as your list exceeds three items, it actually decreases your productivity. Most people have dozens of tasks on their lists and looking at those lists leaves them feeling exhausted before they even begin. In the face of theses long lists, here are 21 games people play to feel more productive and/or less overwhelmed. All of these activities consume time and none of them help you accomplish more faster. Which ones do you play?
1 . Fill your to-do list tasks already completed.
2. Sub-divide tasks so you can check off the part you have finished.
3. List every little detail of new tasks so you can check more things off faster.
4. Copy the list to a clean sheet of paper.
5. Combine all your lists into one list.
6. Separate your list into multiple lists grouped by type of activity (e.g., phone calls, quick tasks, major tasks, morning tasks, between-meetings tasks).
7. Plot your tasks on a double axis chart with two dimensions: importance and urgency.
8. Mark each task with H, M or L.
9. Number the tasks in order of priority.
10. Re-number the tasks.
11. Devise a better scheme for prioritizing tasks.
12. Move the paper list to an electronic tool.
13. Move the electronic list back to paper.
14. Make a request of someone so you can move a task from your active list to your waiting-for-reply list.
15. Schedule a meeting to talk about tasks on your list so you can take them of today’s list.
16. Forward emails to shorten today’s list further.
17. List activities, not outcomes so you can check things off without actually finishing anything.
18. Read the list in search of items you can finish quickly.
19. Read the list again to see if something else is more appealing or appropriate for your mood.
20. Read the list yet again to reassess priority.
21. Check the list one more time to see if you could possibly cross something else out.
Seriously now, what part of your day is devoted to managing or looking at your list versus getting something done?
Time for a new approach. There are only five realistic categories for your potential to-do list tasks:
1. Tasks To Abandon: Forget the things you know would be ranked Medium or Low. Don’t even put them on a list in the first place. You are never going to get to them because to-do lists always grow. They never shrink. If, by some miracle, you finish everything you need to-do, a break would do you good. So delete those emails you hope to read later. Close those articles you would love to read but aren’t really going to make your day a bigger success. Toss those wish lists, those wouldn’t-it-be-great-if tasks. Throw out the notes you hope to review later. Quit filing things and saving email you know you will never look at again. Say no to bureaucratic requests that you can’t possibly connect to value for which customers are willing to pay. Quit feeling obligated to jump every time someone makes a request; ask why instead. The absolute simplest way to keep your To-do list manageable is to reject most tasks before they ever hit the list.
2. Tasks To Delegate Or Outsource: I guarantee your to-do list contains things that someone else is better suited to do or should be doing. If a task isn’t completely aligned with your top responsibilities and your talentsand your interests, you are not the best person for the job. You know you have your fingers in too many pots. Get them out! Find better resources. Learn to delegate and then give others a chance to learn, fail, and show what they can do.
3. Tasks For Cutting Corners: Cutting corners gets a bad wrap, but you don’t have to do everything really, really well. Many tasks simply don’t deserve it. Start with the essential outcomes and work backwards. Too often we plan whole projects where a tweak would do. Too often we pursue perfection when half the effort would be good enough. Save your pride in workmanship for the times when it really matters and start developing pride in your ability to make ruthless, smart choices about priorities. Unless you are working to precise technical customer requirements, the last 80% is probably discernible only to you and maybe your immediate colleagues. Be done and reduce your total time by as much as 50%.
4. Tasks To Tackle Immediately: So now you shouldn’t even be thinking of anything other than really high-priority tasks. Pick no more than three for your list. One is plenty. Having a second or third just allows you to juggle based on availability of others, your schedule, and the need to let something perk.
5. Tasks To Postpone: Every other high-priority task must be postponed. Until you have finished those top few priorities. But even this group of really important stuff, that you absolutely must do, and have consciously decided to postpone, should not go on a list. These belong on your calendar. You need to block out realistic time frames so that you can a) carve out time to complete the task, b) prevent your calendar from filling up with less important activities, and c) communicate the delay to others.
Stop playing games with your to-do lists. Accept the immutable limitations of time and hone your capacity to ruthlessly select the shortest path to results.
The article originally appeared on Forbes.com on June 19th, 2016.