Minimize your to-do list


Just with a quick snapshot around you, busyness is easily observed in our life. And people seem to be busy up to their ears. This overwhelming of daily and working tasks is not limited to a slice of society, but rather, it is a general case for all blue and white-collar workers. In metro stations, you can witness people running to catch up with a train. In companies, banks or universities people look to their watches, check their schedule and chase the flood of emails on their smartphones very regularly. This emphasis the initial hunch that we are fully occupied.

Nevertheless, what could be the reason for such a common feeling?

The intuitive answer might be “Humans are working nowadays more than earlier eras!” However, this is not the right answer. According to Jonathan Gershuny from Oxford University, there is barely any noticeable increase in working time in the last decades. In contrast, one can argue that with the development of new technology, some tasks nowadays can easily be achieved faster than earlier. For the sake of comparison, one farmer nowadays with 10 hours can plow 10 acres, meanwhile using traditional methods of the old days; one can achieve just 1.5-2 acres. This comparison can be applied on other fields of work. For instance, universities, companies... etc are now using powerful computers with many software options that can reduce the needed time and increase productivity significantly.

One main contribution of people’s feelings of being unavailable is the influence of modern media. The media convinces us unconsciously that people who are showing busyness have a higher rank in society or handling crucial tasks. Even though, this is not necessarily the real case. Moreover, the answer "I am too busy" is now an indication of superiority. I still recall a scene from "Concussion" (biographical sports drama) movie (2015) where Dr. Omalu (Will Smith) was struggling to get five minutes from a chief medical officer to explain his research results on chronic traumatic encephalopathy brain degeneration suffered by professional football players. At that time, this medical case was a hot topic and caused a lot of debate between the NFL and the medical research centers. When you see such things you, might, absorb that by default all prominent and influential people are totally swamped by tasks.

Arguably, another factor for feeling the busyness is the downside of the new technology itself. In the ancient era, people were limited by resources and a set of strict timing. For example, if you work in agriculture, you can do nothing but just chill and wait until summer to harvest your crops. So, everything was regulated and constrained by nature.  On the other hand, in our new working style, we have an infinite source of information, new developments, ideas and skills which need to be followed up. At the end of the day, we are literally chasing the infinite set of data and developments. This is not difficult, but truly impossible to accomplish. In addition, as long as people prepare a longer ‘to-do list’, their lists will grow until the way of performing the tasks becomes less effective.

Being busy is, of course, a subjective topic and long discussion. Nevertheless, if you can minimize your ‘to-do list’ as much as possible, be assured you will get better performance and more satisfying results.



Mossab Alzweighi

ESR 8 - KTH Royal Institute of Technology