Survey says people love their to-do lists

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People in the United States report being in love with to-do lists and that they reduce stress, according to a new survey. In honor of National Get Organized Month and New Year's resolutions, a survey by Kelton Research explores people's habits of keeping to-do lists to stay organized, their standards for productivity, and their approach to managing and prioritizing tasks. The results show that people around the world are dependent on their to-do lists.

U.S. citizens reported the most dependency on to-do lists worldwide, with more than three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents currently keeping at least one list; some manage up to three or more lists concurrently.

To-do lists are a stress management tool and have a calming effect on nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of people who responded in the United States, simply because everything is written down in front of them. Respondents in Canada are most likely to have a list, with 78 percent of respondents keeping at least one list. Japan is the least likely to make a to-do list, at only 54 percent.

Respondents who keep at least one to-do list

  • Japan: 54 percent
  • France: 56 percent
  • United Kingdom: 69 percent
  • Germany: 70 percent
  • Spain: 72 percent
  • United States: 76 percent
  • Italy: 77 percent
  • Canada: 78 percent

Although participants in the United States said they check off 69 percent of the tasks on their to-do lists in a week, procrastination is alive and well. On average, the longest an item has stayed on their to-do lists is nearly a month (22 days). On the other end of the spectrum, respondents in Spain recorded 59 percent of tasks completed each week. Respondents in Italy feel the closest attachment to lists, with almost half of their daily activities (45 percent) originating from one, compared with 35 percent for residents of the United States.

Men and women differ on to-do's

In the United States, men and women have different views on how to manage to-do lists.

  • 20 percent of males said they believe they can do everything in their heads, compared with 9 percent of females who choose to rely on mental management rather than write things down.
  • Men are more likely than women to keep personal aspirations (37 percent vs. 22 percent) and professional goals (32 percent vs. 14 percent) on to-do lists.
  • As their day begins, women are more likely than men to first address the most important (85 percent vs. 78 percent) and least enjoyable (56 percent vs. 46 percent) items.

List management methods

Around the globe, people are employing a wide range of list management strategies to get everything done, starting from the moment they review their daily lists to deciding which item to tackle first:

  • When asked which item they address first -- the most important or the first listed -- all countries strongly agreed (75 percent or higher) that they address the most important item on their list first.
  • Respondents in Italy and France would highly prefer to knock off the hardest task first, at 75 percent and 67 percent, respectively.
  • Residents of Japan and the U.K. choose to start with the easiest task, at 59 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

Respondents who first address the hardest item on their to-do list

  • Japan: 41 percent
  • United Kingdom: 45 percent
  • Canada: 54 percent
  • Spain: 54 percent
  • United States: 56 percent
  • Germany: 57 percent
  • France: 67 percent
  • Italy: 75 percent

International inefficiency

Sometimes all the strategy in the world isn't enough to get things done. According to the survey, to-do list tasks often languish on lists for weeks before getting crossed off.

Respondents' most number of days an item has ever stayed on a to-do list

  • Italy: 14
  • France: 18
  • Spain: 19
  • Japan: 20
  • United States: 22
  • Germany: 24
  • Canada: 26
  • United Kingdom: 26

Setting the bar for productivity

Respondents in Japan reveal a high standard for productivity, saying on average that they need to complete 59 percent of the tasks on their weekly to-do list to feel productive, an international high. By contrast, Italy respondents said they need to complete only 41 percent to feel productive.

Putting organization in action

The Windows Mobile group at Microsoft Corp. has teamed up with Ellen Damaschino, certified professional organizer and creator of Neat, to assess the global importance of to-do lists and to show how people can start checking off more items on their to-do lists using its mobile phone software.

"It's no secret that people all over the world are extremely busy and often stressed out from juggling multiple aspects of their lives," Damaschino said. "They're looking for tools that can help them regain control and just get through their day. I've teamed up with Windows Mobile to show how that's possible."

Damaschino will be on the road the week of January 14 to visit various cities and educate people on how they can be more organized this year. She's also introducing the Get Organized sweepstakes (U.S. only) to motivate people to better manage their to-do lists and follow through with their New Year's resolutions. One grand prize winner will spend a day with Damaschino to organize a room in his or her home or place of business, and 20 other winners will receive Windows Mobile phones. You can read the details on entering the sweepstakes including official rules and more survey results.

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