To-do lists are only useful if you DO them

There has been lots of debate recently about the usefulness of to-do lists, so I put it on my to-do list to jot down my own thoughts of the matter. I can confidently state that our culture of notes and thoughtful to-do lists has made Virgin what it is today.

Writer Kevin Kruse recently claimed that to-do lists are a ‘waste of time’. He suggested that they make people more stressed, and only 41 per cent of items on to-do lists are completed.


The crucial part of a to-do list is in the name – you need to actually DO the things on your list. The act of writing your tasks and thoughts down is useful in and of itself, as it helps to organise your thoughts and give you focus. However, if you then ignore your own advice and don’t follow up, the lists will lose most of their power. Quite often you will only do 50 per cent of things on to-do lists because, on reflection, only 50 per cent are worth doing. But by putting things on lists it will help clarify what’s worth doing and what’s worth dropping.  

“Do you really think Richard Branson and Bill Gates write long to-do lists and prioritise items as A1, A2, B1, B2, and so on?” asked Mr Kruse. I can assure him that I do indeed write to-do lists and prioritise items. I live my life by writing lists – there is one next to me right now. Without to-do lists, I would use my time far less effectively, and have a lot less fun. People wonder how I fit in kitesurfing and tennis every day alongside business meetings – the answer is good planning and to-do lists. My habit has also rubbed off on many of our team, who are also avid note-takers and to-do list makers.

Richard Branson taking notes

I am constantly amazed when I go into meetings and am the only person taking notes, and then converting these into actions on to-do lists. It’s how I get things done. If you don’t write things down, you will have forgotten them before you leave the room. We could never have achieved a tenth of what we’ve achieved without systematic lists and actions.

The author Paul Hannam joined our Virgin Podcast recently and talked about making a list of three things he was grateful for every morning to give him energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead. I’d wholeheartedly recommend following in his footsteps.

Judith Woods, writing in the Telegraph, agreed that “every time I draw up a new to-do list, I feel genuinely invigorated”. She also correctly noted: “The idea that Sir Richard Branson or Lord Sugar got where they are today without making lists is preposterous.”

However, she went on to add that “they might still do, but they probably elevate it and call is something more grandiose, such as “the Eisenhower Decision Matrix”. I can assure you that I still call my to-do list a to-do list, and I use it every day. I would recommend everybody does the same.


Do you use a to-do list? If not, put “make a to-do list” at the top of your list. You’re on your way!


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