Former Monk Jay Shetty Says ‘Most Successful, Productive People Don't Use To-Do Lists'—What He Does Instead

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Jay Shetty, a former monk turned life coach, doesn't like to-do lists.

It's somewhat surprising, given his multi-pronged career. Shetty is a New York Times bestselling author, social media influencer and podcast host whose live shows draw thousands of attendees. The multiple elements of his life practically demand organization.

His solution for his ever-busy schedule: timeboxing. "Most successful and productive people don't even use to-do lists," Shetty said on a recent episode of his "On Purpose" podcast. "They have scheduled tasks."

Timeboxing is when you move your to-do list into a calendar form, giving each task an allotted amount of time. From there, you choose what you want to do and when, blocking out any distractions for the time limit you've given that task.

In an analysis of 100 productivity hacks, timeboxing ranked as the most useful, according to tech company Filtered.

How Shetty uses timeboxing to manage his calendar

Here's how it works for Shetty. All of his tasks for a given week are in a single calendar, with time doled out accordingly: two hours to record a podcast, one hour for a specific meeting. 

Unlike to-do lists, there's no emphasis on completion. Instead, timeboxing is all about accurately predicting how long a task should take, and how long you want to spend on it. 

"I can just open up my calendar every day and look at what I have to do next," he explained. "I don't have to think about what I have to do next."

The allotted time is a hard out, meaning you might not finish everything. The upside, in Shetty's experience: You'll never get bogged down by spending too much time on a task that should've only taken an hour. 

Timeboxing also solves another common gripe with to-do lists, by giving you a finite number of tasks to complete per day. That's far-cry from to-do lists, which are essentially the productivity equivalent of an infinite scroll.

"Even if you ticked everything off your to-do list, there's always more to do and it feels overwhelming," Shetty said.

Another alternative: the 'done' list

To-do lists do have some merit. The distinct thrill of checking something off your list, for example, can give you a sense of accomplishment, research shows.

If you're looking for an alternative with some of the same benefits of a to-do list, consider a "done" list of everything you've accomplished in a given day or week, says psychologist and author Rachel Turow

The practice is a form of "cognitive reappraisal," or looking at the same situation in a different way. Turow says — giving you that satisfying feeling of checking off a box while celebrating what you've already accomplished, rather than staring down a never-ending task list.

"The key is that no item is too small, like taking a vitamin or texting a friend," Turow says. "It can feel like nothing, but they're all beneficial actions that matter.

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