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.
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!