Over the past few years, my husband and I have taught productivity classes to more than 100,000 live attendees, and we’ve noticed some significant patterns.
If your to-do list feel like it keeps getting longer, you’re not alone (but there’s a solution!).
Here are three potential reasons for the overwhelm—and some simple adjustments you can apply today.
#1. You’re grouping routine activities with one-time tasks.
Most to-do lists feature routines like “exercise” and “menu planning” with one-time tasks like “make doctor appointment” or “ask Kevin about fall event.” This typically makes your list longer than usual—and most people end up forwarding tasks to the next day, and the next, and the next.
The Fix: Extract your routines onto a Routines and Responsibilities List and put flexible one-time tasks onto a Next Actions List.
The idea—inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done®—is for your routines to run on autopilot. Calendar-specific routines go on your calendar, but flexible routines can go on a list like this that you’ll review weekly–and perhaps post somewhere near your desk:
Across the top, you write Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly. Then down the side, you’ll have Personal, Family, and Work/Volunteer. You can fill this out on paper, inside Evernote, or on a white board, but the goal is for this list to become part of your natural schedule.
You’ll also want to create a weekly Next Actions List that organizes flexible one-time tasks (or tasks related to your projects) by where you are when you’re getting them done.
Need to move that bookshelf from the den to the office? Put it on the “Home” list.
Want to ask your spouse’s opinion on insurance options? It goes on “To Discuss.”
Have a document that needs to be reviewed by next week? Add the task to “Computer.”
Create calendar triggers if there are any deadlines associated with these tasks, and you’re good to go!
Reason #2: You say YES to more and more projects without reducing the number of projects already on your plate.
“Sure! I’m happy to put together that big report.”
“I can absolutely get the new website finished up.”
“Yes, sign me up to coordinate the new hiring policies.”
We drive ourselves crazy when we take on more than we can humanly manage, right?
The Fix: Create a tiered Projects List with just two to three work projects on your “Current” list.
Mine looks like this—with the Current Projects on top, a special section for those that have been delegated to others or are waiting on information, and then an additional section for “Next in Line” projects.
If a new project needs to go into “Current,” one of the existing projects must be moved down. It’s not easy to admit that I can’t do everything, but my goodness, it saves my sanity.
Reason #3: You’re filling up your calendar to the point that you don’t want to look at it.
No one enjoys staring at a jam-packed calendar. But many people schedule every hour of the day, and then take additional time rescheduling the tasks that didn’t happen.
The Fix: Structure your calendar to have as few “have to do” events as possible—and separate the time-specific ones from the flexible ones.
When your calendar has plenty of white space, you create the sense that there is all the time in the world, and that boosts your creativity.
Then, instead of scheduling time for every flexible task, you could record them as “all day” events…
Or record them on an independent list that will be totally checked off by the end of the day.
(This task list is the PRIMARY one for the day, supplemented by your Next Actions and Routines discussed above.)
It’s incredibly common for busy people to get buried by their lists, but you have important things to accomplish and meaningful relationships to build. Making these simple adjustments can absolutely change the game.
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Ever wondered how to integrate a paper planner with your favorite digital tools? Here’s a quick peek into my favorite planning process that helps me manage tasks, projects, and routines without the stress.
Getting Things Done by David Allen
How Asana Can Manage Your Projects and Routines (Without Stress!)
If you’re looking for a great digital tool to manage the things you need to do (or if you simply want to see what others are doing so you can compare the process to your current system), here’s a podcast that explains a simple way to use Asana.
If you want to learn how to organize your mind, our free class, How to Stop Drowning in Piles, teaches four simple steps you can implement today to help you manage the details of life so that you can do more of what matters most. We look forward to having you join us!
Christina Conley says
A couple questions:
1. What is the difference between a flexible task, and a Next Action? Like, how do I know whether to put an item on a day’s task list, or on my week’s Next Actions list?
2. If I’m using paper lists, what are the best physical places to put my Routines lists?
Love you guys and your work!!
Taryn Wood says
Great questions, Christina! Thanks for your kind words. We’re so glad you’re here with us at LearnDoBecome.com!
1-We actually talk more about that on episode 63 as well as inside the STEP program. You can find episode 63 here, https://learndobecome.com/episode63-2. Module 1 has a step specific to Next Actions and it’s reviewed in Module 3.
2-The best place to put your Routines list is the place where you’ll see it. 😉 If you need visible reminders it might be helpful to post it next to your Command Central. If you’d rather not have it out on display, you could store it in a folder near your inbox so it’s easily accessible when you’re doing your Weekly Review.
Lori Z. says
Hi, April! I love your podcasts and I’m a member of your STEP program. (I started the STEP program about 2 years ago, but never finished due to my life turning upside-down from health and other big personal changes…. 🙁 But I want to start over with it again. :-))
Anyway, maybe I’ll figure this out when I re-start STEP, but I’m a bit confused with how to organize all the “tools”. I use my iPhone calendar and I also have a Franklin planner that I started using last summer. (Love it!) My confusion lies with using my iPhone calendar, my Franklin planner, and then also maybe using either Asana or Evernote on top of the others. For example, can the Next Actions List and the Projects List be put in my planner, or should they be in Asana or Evernote, or on separate papers?
I’m still overwhelmed with handling my new life after my personal changes, so this seems a bit overwhelming at the moment. Would you please simplify it for me? Or you can just tell me to go to the STEP program for the answers, if you want to. 😀 Thank you so much!!
Taryn Wood says
Hi, Lori! Thank you for your comment and questions. Many of the tools that you’ve mentioned could be considered landing spots and we talk more about those in Module 3 of the STEP program. We’ll send you an email with some specifics but know that we have great confidence in you and know that you’ll find the success you’re looking for as you move through the STEP Program! We’re thrilled to have you with us and we look forward to hearing your success stories!
Hi, I am trying to get my head around parts of the program before I commit. Loving what I have heard so far. I did the free class and listened to a few podcasts. I listened to this one #78 and thought you referenced the Evernote templates your husband uses were in the notes. I didn’t see them and I am most interested in how to make use of Evernote in your program since I have already been using Evernote for years. Where would I find that information?Thank you so much!
Taryn Wood says
Hi, Jennifer! Eric does use Evernote for his projects and we do have some templates. Those can be found inside our STEP program. We’d love to have you join us there if it’s a good fit for you!
I have always had confusion about creating these lists of regular routines, because I don’t know how to ensure they actually get done. Schedule into calendar? Put on next actions list by location? They are typically multi-step projects, in essence, that happen on a regular basis. So how do I have the steps built into my day? Thanks for your continuing insights!
Taryn Wood says
Great question, Connie! There are some routines that may need to be scheduled on the calendar so they’re not forgotten; others will happen naturally throughout your day. If there’s a routine that isn’t getting done, you may consider creating a project to help you build a habit for that routine. We have a few articles here on our website that may be helpful to you as you consider how you want to move forward building your routines. You can type “routines” into the search bar to see those articles. Thanks for being with us!
Hello, I am glad to be apart of this program. I homeschool five children, from 13 to 2 years old. I am having difficulty creating a routine. How can I use this program to help me with that?
Taryn Wood says
Hi, Irene! This program can definitely help you in building routines. We have an additional podcast that walks you through part of the process that April and Eric have used with their children. You can find that here: https://learndobecome.com/episode47/. Also, if you are part of our STEP Mastery program, you might consider asking this same question inside the Facebook group. The members there are so helpful and supportive. Thanks so much for being with us!
Elizabeth Morrison says
What is the difference between a routine and responsibility? I run 2 businesses out of my house (a bookkeeping business and a crochet business). I have a paper planner (love it), monthly desk calendar (like to see the entire month at a glance) and electronic calendar but they have mostly the same things on them. I never know which one I will be referring to when setting up an appointment with client, etc. I would like to use Asana for routines but I tend to get bogged down in the details (I’m a bookkeeper so this happens a lot!) I did set up a command central, but the best thing I did was set up a tickler system with 12 folders, 1 for each month. I have even managed to get a couple projects done a month.
Taryn Wood says
This is a great question. While they are very similar, there are a few differences. A routine would be something that you’re doing over and over; think laundry, dishes, payroll, etc. A responsibility would be something that you are responsible to take care of. You could be responsible for the routines that are taking place or you could be responsible to check with the person in charge of those routines. Again, very similar with only a few slight differences.
We have some additional videos about Asana here on our website. You can follow this link to find those resources: https://learndobecome.com/?s=asana. We hope this is helpful! Thanks for being with us here at LearnDoBecome.com.