I've discovered shared to-do lists, and I feel less stressed, more productive and won't go back into hiding.

I've discovered shared to-do lists, and I feel less stressed, more productive and won't go back into hiding.

Trusting your team to manage their to-do lists privately is one of the root causes of a busy, reactive, and unproductive work culture.

This approach often leads us to what Cal Newport describes as

"a state of continuous partial attention," where we are "constantly scanning our environment for new information and, in the process, skimming the surface of life".

I’ve fixed a weird paranoid autopilot thing that I do on my phone or computer when I’m stressed. Open Slack, refresh emails, check WhatsApp, refresh your other inbox…

"hyperactive hive mind"—a workflow where you check all these channels for warnings or requests to do things. Tasks can fly in from anywhere; your job is to manage these multiple channels whenever your phone is at hand.

It’s a sick pseudo-productive doom spiral.

But wait…

Only a micromanaging, low-trust, meddling nightmare of a boss would want to be in the weeds of your to-do list.

That’s what I used to think.

I’ve discovered that transparency in how things get done results in less stress for both the boss and the doer. Fewer urgent requests that ruin your plan for the day. Less busyness. A culture of shared understanding - alignment.

Across a leadership team, accountability for tasks outside your core role, this shared task system can be particularly powerful. Solo-to-do-list operators move tasks assigned to someone else to a ‘Waiting on’ or ‘Reminder’ status so they have something to check on if they don’t hear back. Once you’ve assigned it, it goes into the black hole of your colleague's inbox.

Handing a task off to someone without fully understanding the system your request has entered doesn’t fully offload the burden of the task to the doer.

We carry the cognitive load of remembering to chase it up.

We don’t understand what happens in someone else’s black box to-do system.

We chase or check-in.

Everything gets the slightly urgent treatment because we’re desperate to do it.

We want it off our plates.

The shared to-do list is the antidote to this anxiety-inducing game.

Transparency on what is in progress, what is in the backlog, and what is done. If the person you assigned it to passes it on, you can see that, too.

You know what is going on. Everyone is aligned. No meeting is required. No chasing.

Clarity on what matters makes it possible to focus on getting it done.

Leaving it to chance by keeping your to-do list a closely guarded secret is an outdated way to operate.

Oliver Rhodes

Oliver Rhodes