Do you write yourself a laundry list of to-do’s that is so long you feel like you will never be able to finish them? It’s a common practice. Write everything and anything that needs doing down and start tackling them one by one and EVENTUALLY, you’ll be done.
It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice, it tends to lead to task overwhelm where instead of checking off tasks, you sit there feeling panicked and overloaded (and that’s typically when you give in to the temptation of the cat video and other social media distractions).
Instead of trying to tackle EVERYTHING and anything on one giant to-do list, sit down and figure out what are your priority tasks. Ask yourself, “What actually needs to be done TODAY?” Now here’s the tricky part: you can only pick 2 to 3 must-do tasks for your list and you must finish them that day.
It sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? Leaving all those other tasks floating in the void? Not at all. You are going to do the same for tomorrow, the next day and the next day and so on until each to-do on your giant task list is assigned to a day of the week.
Any tasks that fall into the “Do Someday” category because they don’t have any urgency to them go onto a separate list of tasks that can be tackled when you have extra time or when you find yourself waiting for something to start. Tasks like reorganizing your filing system or shredding old documents go on this list.
How to Get More Done With a Focused Task List
Shift Your Thinking — Instead of thinking of your tasks as “To-Do’s” (which implies that you intend to get them done eventually), start thinking of them as “Must-Do’s”. The 2 to 3 tasks that you put on today’s Must-Do list MUST get done today.
By focusing on 2 to 3 priority tasks, you not only start your day with purpose, but with the confidence that you are capable of achieving them. The practice of bumping the extra tasks to another day also forces you to evaluate how busy you really are so you can properly manage expectations and avoid taking on more than you can realistically handle.
Focus on Monday to Thursday — Try to take a one week view of your task list, leaving Friday open for catch-up or overflow should unexpected tasks come up throughout the week. For larger projects, break the tasks down into milestones that can be achieved in your week timeframe.
Narrowing your focus down to one week at a time forces you to break tasks down into smaller (achievable) chunks and it allows you to take your weekends off without worrying about to-do’s that are being carried over until Monday.
If You Finish, Keep Going — Either tackle something from tomorrow’s Must-Do list or shift your focus to your Someday-Do list. There is nothing that says you can’t start on tomorrow’s list. The only rule is you have to finish your Must-Do list for today.
Notice the shift from trying to tackle 17 things all at once to focusing on 2 to 3 core tasks per day. If you cross off the 3 core tasks you had on your list for today and move onto one for tomorrow, you have overachieved and you feel capable and motivated. But if you only manage to get 4 out of 17 things done, you feel like a miserable failure.