Who doesn’t love a to-do list? It’s a simple, yet effective strategy that helps you get your head around the day - so you can get more stuff done in less time.
Well, that’s the plan anyway!
But more often than not, our best-laid plans can go out the window! It’s a common problem. Procrastination, stress and anxiety, unexpected interruptions, new demands… they can all put the brakes on your plans, leaving you feeling deflated and disappointed with your output.
What’s more, you also increase your workload for tomorrow, which piles on the pressure further.
The good news is there are some practical things you can do to keep yourself on track. Life doesn’t have to be a collection of half-finished to-do lists. Instead, you can empower yourself to stay on top of your to-do list and actually get it ALL done.
Let me show you how...
1. Be realistic
Right now, we’re all dealing with uncertainty and chaos. Life is more challenging than usual, which can make it harder to stay focused and do what you need to do.
When you have a lot on your plate, it’s tempting to try and get it all done today. In the back of your mind, you imagine you’ll feel a little less stressed if your master to-do list was a little shorter.
But is that goal realistic? Is there genuinely enough time in your day to clear your entire list in one go?
If not, own that reality - because if you try to complete a level of work that isn’t practical, you’ll only set yourself up to fail [which will only make you feel bad].
Much better to be realistic.
Much better to create today’s to-do list with the number of tasks you can actually cope with. If you make this simple shift, you’ll relieve some pressure and set yourself up for that all-important win.
Once you accept you can’t get everything done today, your next step is to identify the biggest levers on your master to-do list.
What tasks are due today? What tasks are most important and most urgent? What tasks will take a weight off your shoulders if you’re able to tick them off?
This Eisenhower Matrix will help you make these important distinctions.
When you’ve figured out your priorities, put all your focus on getting those tasks checked off first. That way, your day is already a win - and if you get more done, well that’s a bonus.
3. Time estimates
How do you know if your prioritized to-do list is realistic within the time you have available? Here’s how...
Take each task in turn and estimate how long they’ll take you to do. For example:
- 2 hours for a blog post
- A 30-minute sales call
- 90 minutes for your powerwalk
- 45-minute team call
- 30 minutes for responding to emails etc.
Then add up the total time - the examples above amount to 5hrs and 15mins.
With this grand total you can gauge this workload against your day.
Does your schedule have enough time for everything? If not, make adjustments until it all fits.
4. Schedule tasks to a timeslot
One mistake people make is to work from their to-do list.
You’ll be far more productive if you transfer those tasks onto your planner by allocating them specific time slots - like the example below [using a Self Journal].
Remember to add in your breaks (you can’t work flat out), and also build in a bit of slack in case you overrun on certain tasks.
This step ensures each task has a deadline (based on your time estimates). This works wonders for productivity because it ensures tasks don’t extend unnecessarily. Give yourself a time span to work with and you’ll focus better and work more productively.
There’s another benefit…
If you stick to allocated times you can see at a glance if you’re on target to get everything done by the end of the day. If you are, great! If you’re not, you can take action to get yourself back on track before it’s too late.
5. Schedule tasks to energy levels
Ever noticed how some tasks fill you up and some tasks pull you down? Use this knowledge to your advantage when figuring out the order in which you’ll tackle your to-dos.
For example, put an energizing task after lunch to help you push through the afternoon slump. Try doing a draining task when your willpower and motivation is at its highest.
Work with your energy levels and you’re less likely to waste time needlessly. When the pressure is on, you can ill afford to waste a single minute!
6. Make a list of quick errands
As well as the day’s chunky tasks, make a list of the quick errands and to-dos you’d like to get done. For example, phoning a friend, sorting the laundry, or paying a bill/invoice. With your list already drawn up, if you do find yourself ahead (or if you have some minutes spare), you can crack on with these too.
It’s a simple way to get more done - with less pressure.
7. Stick to your plan
There will always be other things you could do.
There will always be people who want you to prioritize their work over what you planned to do.
Don’t get dragged into or distracted by the ‘urgent’ tasks that can wait.
There will be times when you have no choice but to change your schedule to accommodate someone else. But don’t make that decision lightly. Check in to ensure you’re clear on what really is the most important thing.
You are allowed to say no :-)
8. Plan tomorrow, today
When you’ve got a full-on day ahead, you need to maximize every minute you’ve got.
You can’t afford to spend time at the beginning of your day planning it all out. Far better to get your head around what you’re going to do the night before. That way, you can hit the ground running - clear on what you need to get done and by when.
When life is as busy as yours, every minute counts.
Unfinished to-do lists make life stressful.
Finished to-do lists let you end the day with a win and a big motivational boost.
So set yourself up for success. Follow these simple points to craft realistic to-do lists and you can feel more productive and more accomplished every day.
You’ve got this :-)