It’s 6:00 am. You have just woken up and are ready to take a shower. After the showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work.
You are feeling wonderful, relaxed, and happy. You have very high expectations for the day and you want to be as productive as possible.
Fast forward to 2 pm the same day. You are working in a rush and you barely had a chance to take a lunch break.
You start to feel a bit stressed and tired because of the busy schedule. Besides, it seems that you have to go back to certain tasks and fix them, because you didn’t have time to focus on them properly.
The day which started so fine has turned into a stressful one. You just jump from one task to another – as quickly as possible – without doing anything properly.
You wish you’d find a reset button, so that you could start your day from all over – with a different strategy.
What you probably experienced was this: you planned your day the night before and you felt you were on top of your tasks.
However, things started to go wrong when you kept adding tasks after each other to your list and finally your task list was many miles long. Your list also contained tasks which were pretty much impossible to get done in one day.
The other point which contributed to your hectic and stressful day was not understanding how much time completing a particular task would take and when to execute the task. If you had this information, it would have been easier to figure out the right timing for executing the task.
Finally, there really wasn’t any flexibility in your plans. You forgot to add a buffer between tasks and understand that certain tasks are much larger than what they seem outside.
But you know what – these reasons alone weren’t the main reason for your stress and busyness …
How much time did you actually spent on planning your day – was it just 5 minutes while the television set was distracting you?
If so, then this was probably the biggest reason why your day became so stressful.
When you plan your days, you should truly understand the tasks you are about to do – and what it takes to accomplish them. This is necessary especially with important tasks, because you are able to make progress with the tasks that matter the most.
The lack of time spent on planning will also be shown as too many big tasks stuffed to your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the task into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This in turn makes you to beat yourself for not completing your task list.
Finally, don’t treat creating a task list just like some secondary thing that you try to do as quickly as possible. In fact, when you pay more attention to your next day’s task list, the more likely is the list going to be realistic and less stressful for you.
When I talk about a good task list; I consider these characteristics to be part of it:
To make a list that you can actually accomplish the next day, do the following:
Finally, when you plan your day, ask yourself these questions:
The first questions refer to your personal schedule. For instance, if you are travelling, make sure that your list reflects to this fact. Don’t try to “overstuff” your list with too many tasks, since it’s more likely you get only a fraction of them done.
The second question asks if the task is blocking other tasks to be executed. Every once in a while we might have a task, which has to be taken care of first. After you have done that, only then you can take care of the sequential tasks. When you focus on creating your task list in a focused manner, you’ll be able to spot the gatekeepers easily.
The third question asks if your task is actually much bigger than what it seems. Sometimes when you start working on a task, you’ll soon realize that it’s much bigger than what you initially thought (compare them to icebergs, where only the tip of the iceberg is above the sea level, but the majority of the ice is below the water).
Once again, when you focus enough on your task list during the creation phase, it’s easier to spot these “icebergs” and split the tasks into smaller, much more manageable chunks.
The final question asks if the task is distraction-proof. The fact is that not all the tasks are created equal: some tolerate more distraction, while others require your full attention.
For instance, I can check my Twitter stream or do simple blog maintenance even when I’m around my family. These tasks are distraction-proof and I can take care of them – even if I don’t have my full attention on them.
If you still have a hard time of achieving your daily tasks, make sure that you analyze the reasons why this happened. If anything, do not beat yourself up for not finishing your task list.
No one is perfect and we can learn from our mistakes.
It takes a bit practice to create a “smiling” task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better :)
Over to you: How do you create an effective task list?
Featured photo credit: young woman via Gettyimages
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