Go ahead and google "to-do lists work" and "to-do lists don't work". If it goes through a fair trial, both arguments are valid. It works for those who agree and it doesn't work for those who disagree.
How is that possible. How can two contrary things be both valid? Well life is not black and white, what works for some doesn't necessarily works for others. That's why I firmly believe you can only learn from your own mistakes.
To-Do lists are a great example because they shows that both organized and disorganized can work. I look at my coworkers that do have a systematic approach to doing things (they use to-do lists) and they always know what they did in the past and what they plan to do later. They have post-it notes everywhere on their desk, notebooks with lists checked off and folders with stack of papers only they can understand. I categorize them as the organized because even though their desk look like a mess, they know exactly where everything is. I put myself in the same category as my disorganized co-workers. My desk is not a mess. In fact, it is empty. There is no to-do list anywhere and I don't even entertain that idea very often. I am not very good at multitasking so I do one thing at a time.
If you ask me to provide the list of things I did for the past month, I will only have a general idea unless I check myJIRAs. I don't have a list with specific details like my organized co-workers. When we have a meeting you can spot us easily as we come in the room empty handed as opposed to those with the notebooks and iPads. But does it mean that we are not efficient at our job? No, we are doing just fine, just as our colleagues.
Everyone has a different way of doing things. You may have discovered the ultimate secret for productivity, but it won't work for everybody. As a programmer I find that one of the ultimate tools is having two monitors. You would think that no one can argue with that. Well here is what a friend told me:
even though you think you are getting better at multitasking, what you are really doing is you are getting better at being distracted.
More real estate for distraction
After a long reflection and monitoring myself, I can't help but agree. Even though I have my IDE and multiple windows open, I spend a lot of time going through each tab as if i need to open each one every time I need to get something done. Sometimes I have one web page open and in order to get to it, I go through a few tabs first, like hackernews, youtube and the bunch of blogs I have open. Sometimes in the process I stop at a page with an interesting title and end up reading the whole article before going back to the page where I need to get work done. It looks like I am doing a lot, because I am moving my head left to write and back and switching windows, moving open chat window from screen to screen and after a few hours of doing this I feel productive, but if I was only focusing on the work I have to do I could have done much more.
So if you feel to distracted don't just blame external factors. Look at the work you are doing. Are you passionate about it? Not that you should only work on things you are passionate about but remember that passion is stronger then lolcats.
Words, words, words, and words but still hard to convey the idea in my mind. Here is one of my favorite comic that describes my experience better than I ever will.
Formal Sweatpants — The return of trolley by Josh Mecouch