Is your to-do list part of the problem?

Make a to-do list that works for you.

Got a lot on your plate? Feeling especially stressed out? If you’re not getting to everything on your to-do list, it may be because you’re actually sabotaging your own efforts.

It probably feels like there’s not enough time in the day. You may be overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done. And your list is long and getting longer.

And that might actually be part of the problem.

Most people I speak with have too many items on their to-do lists. Frequently, they have more than 10 items on the list to get done in one day. The way they manage their to-do list—not the actual amount of work they have—is actually a significant contributor to their stress.

The typical practice is to put everything you have to get done or want to get done on the to-do list. With a lengthy list, you will do the easiest and most enjoyable things first.

There are often more than a couple of items left at the end of the day. Everything left over—frequently important projects—gets pushed to the next day…and the day after that…and the day after that. This creates even more stress as you try to get important projects done at the last minute.

Here are two ways of tackling your to-do list that can help relieve some of the stress:

1. Write a master list of all of the things you have to get done over the next few days or weeks, then pull from it the three most important items to do each day.
Your to-do list suddenly becomes more manageable. You don’t have the visual clutter and frustration generated by a long list. If you finish the three items by, say, 11:00 a.m., go back to the master list and get three more items.

In this way, you’re not writing a to-do list that would actually take more time than you have in a workday. The basic rule of thumb is to create a to-do list that takes between 50% and 65% of your day. This gives you time to deal with interruptions, unforeseen projects, etc., when they arise without getting far behind on your list.

2. Use the 2-minute rule: If it takes less than two minutes to complete a task, do it right away and don’t write it on your to-do list.
And don’t write something on your to-do list just to cross it out so you can feel good about yourself!

It’s a busy time of year, and staying organized is great—but trying to do too much at once just leaves you more stressed out. Simplify your to-do list, be realistic about how much time things take, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.


About Joe Serio

Dr. Joe Serio is a keynote speaker, trainer, and author who helps the people in your organization navigate resistance to change so they can move forward successfully.

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