The Never-Ending To-Do List
Posted on September 07, 2011 by Mark Strong, One of Thousands of Life Coaches on Noomii.
Have a long to-do list? Here are some tips from Certified Life Coach Mark Strong to make that list less daunting and more manageable.
If there’s one thing that most everyone I coach has in common, it’s a feeling of being too busy. Whether we’re in a job struggling to keep up with client demands while short-staffed, or if we’ve been laid off and are scrambling to apply and interview for new positions, or if we’re running our own business, we’re all short on time and long on to-dos.
One problem of always feeling behind the eight ball is that it produces stress and anxiety. If you’re in constant rush mode always trying to cross just one more thing off your list but never feeling any closer to the bottom of it, you can feel frustrated. The health effects of stressful negative feelings have been well documented. While some stress can lead to healthy productivity, having too much pressure in your life can lead to a host of health problems, from insomnia and depression to high blood pressure and heart trouble.
So how can you complete what you need to accomplish without feeling overwhelmed? The answer may lie in how you look at things. If you convince yourself that everything on your list is equally important, or that you must cross more tasks off your list each day than is realistic or even possible, then you’re setting yourself up for discouragement that can lead to stress.
Consider the following tips to help change your perspective about your workload and life load:
Be honest about your time. One mistake I’m guilty of making along with my clients is overestimating the amount of time I have to get things done each day. When you take a more realistic look at your schedule, it may become clear that having 20 things on your to-do list is biting off more than you can chew.
If you usually try to shoehorn too many tasks into available hours, try a new approach. Instead of pressuring yourself to accomplish so much, tell yourself that you only need to finish a few things on your list—maybe three max, though in some cases, one may be enough depending on complexity. Then you’ll have a feeling of success at day’s end for completing what you intended, instead of disappointment about what you didn’t do.
Break tasks into multiple steps. Another useful strategy to manage your to- do list involves a bit of x-ray vision. You need to see through the task you’ve written on paper to the many associated tasks that it may imply. For example, if you’ve written “Submit proposal to committee,” this one item may contain several distinct steps, such as “Talk to boss about focus of proposal,” “Research previous proposals,” “Find proposal template,” and “Write proposal.”
Separate “urgent” from “important.” This goes back to Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—not everything on your to-do list is of equal value. Though it may seem counterintuitive, things that shout “URGENT!” may not be that important, at least not to your own plans and goals. Urgent-seeming tasks are usually those that come to you from outside sources. They are considered urgent by the sender—frantic messages from colleagues about something they want you to do, emails marked with exclamation points to move them to the top of your in-box.
But these screaming missives may not have anything to do with what you need to accomplish today based on your larger vision of what’s important. So take the time to identify what’s important to you, and don’t let those items get bumped by other’s urgencies. As the saying goes, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”