3 ways to Stop To-Do List Overwhelm

Do you ever look down your to-do list and feel so overwhelmed by the length and enormity of it, that you just put it down again and do something else. I often feel like that so I want to share a strategy with you that has really helped me focus and be more productive.

The first thing is to cut the list down in size. But you can't just scratch tasks off it - they're on there for a reason, but they probably all have slightly different time frames in which they have to get done.
So whatever medium you use - good old fashioned pen and paper, or an app like Wunderlist or Trello - the first thing you need to do is put some time frames and urgency requirements in. I am a fan of Trello, and I have my main list entitled To-Do, and then inside it I have three sub lists.

The first is entitled TODAY. This is everything that I absolutely have to get done today, and more to the point, can realistically get done today. This is a list that you should be able to proudly tick off by the evening, and even if something comes up or a task takes longer than expected, it becomes your priority list for tomorrow and all tasks on it should be completed in the very near future.

The second list is THIS MONTH, ie the next few weeks. These are the things that need doing but you've still got time on your side, and if the presentation notes aren't written today or little Fred's Paddington costume isn't organised today, you've still got time to do that next week. Obviously these bullet points will slide their way up to the Today list at some point, but they are fine in Medium Term for now.

Finally there's the LONG TERM - that's the nice to have - things like put your photos in an album, get the chair repaired, go through your old bank statements for a clear out... stuff that needs to happen at some point, but so not urgent, and quite frankly can just wait.
So this all sounds well and good, but what happens when even the Today list is unachievable? I just slide into a pit of failure and end up feeling worse off than before. So here's where the "ROCKS AND STONES" come in. If you are given a pile of rocks, some large stones, small stones and sand to place in a large jar - how would you do it? You can either place the rocks in first, and work down in size order, and the sand will literally fill up all the gaps between the rocks. Or you can start with your layer of sand at the bottom of the jar and work upwards. But guess what - in the latter version, you won't get it all in the jar. It's just the same with our to-do lists. Start with the rocks. These are usually the tasks that are unpleasant or hard. Call the bank to sort out a missing payment, file a VAT return, write an appraisal for a difficult employee, write to your mother in law thanking her for lunch! Our human self would prefer to put these at the bottom of the list, and do all the "sand" tasks first - like book the dentist, organise a meeting with a client, print out your presentation - they are all easy things, that can all be achieved quite quickly and you know you'll get that satisfying feeling of lots of ticks on the list. But at the end of the day, the VAT return or whatever rock you had, will still be sitting there untouched. Tomorrow will be no different. There will be other sand tasks.....

So force yourself to organise Today's list into Rocks, Stones and Sand.  Find a big rock and start there. That may be the only task you actually complete but it will feel so good, and infinitely better that all the ticked off Sand tasks which you know are fast and easy. I find the worse the rocks look, the harder this is, the more necessary this discipline becomes.

So today - look at your pressing tasks, organise into rocks and stones, pick the ugliest rock and get on with it.


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