Advertising
Advertising

How to Make a List Doable in 6 Steps

How to Make a List Doable in 6 Steps

No wonder that you are stressed. Your days are very busy and even though you carefully plan them, the amount of work is just crushing you.

You blame it on your task list.

It seems very doable when you first look at it in the morning, but when it’s afternoon, the amount of tasks is far from decreasing. Instead, it stays the same or even increases – no matter how hard you work.

You wonder if there is a way out of this situation and I’m happy to say that yes, there is! The solutions may sound simple, but you need to adjust your working habits a bit and make a list that is doable until they work.

Is your list out of control?

Here is the thing: You keep feeding the baby monster, so that it’s keeps growing and growing. And instead of killing the monster while it’s a baby, it grows to a huge proportions and that’s how it becomes virtually impossible to eliminate.

In other words, you keep adding new tasks to your list throughout the day. So, no matter how well you plan your tasks the day before, you are sabotaging your own productivity and success by doing so.

Also, you never complete the original tasks you planned because you are distracted. Instead, you focus on the newest tasks on the list, but unfortunately they are not the ones you should be doing.

Advertising

At the end of the day, you feel a lack of accomplishment. This is a direct result of not getting all the tasks done that you planned. This feeling isn’t doing your self-confidence any good. When you feel that you weren’t able to finish all the tasks, you see yourself as a loser.

You are trying to do too much

So what is causing these negative feelings – even if you work hard?

Well, I would say there are four reasons:

  • Lack of control
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of priority
  • Afraid to say “no”

Let’s explain each one of those in more detail.

First, there is lack of control – you are not controlling what enters to the list and when. This in turn makes a list that keeps growing and growing – instead of shrinking.

And when you let this happen, it’s no wonder that you start to show the signs of burning out – even if the clock just passed the noon.

Then, there is the lack of focus. This happens when you are not committed enough to complete the original tasks on your list. Instead, you let new tasks distract you.

Advertising

All of a sudden you start working on some new, unplanned tasks, while neglecting the ones you should be focusing on. The prioritization to your current tasks needs improvements, so that the distraction could be prevented in the future.

Finally, you don’t have the courage to say to the other person that you can’t accept new assignments to your list today.

This happens for example in your workplace, when your boss walks to your cubicle and asks you to do something as soon as possible. So instead of finishing the task you are doing in that very moment, you are expected to do this new task right away.

Since you want to be a good employee, you find yourself re-prioritizing your work because your boss asked you to.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to feed the baby monster (your task list in the morning). Since you keep doing it, the list (or the monster) grows and grows this gets you overwhelmed and stressed.

However, I’m going to tell you two different strategies for dealing with the overflowing task list.

Are you ready?

Advertising

Do it tomorrow and close the list

Back in 2008, I read a great book called: “Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management” by Mark Forster.

In that book, here presented two solutions to improve your productivity. With these solutions you can make your task list more manageable, thus you are cutting down your stress while doing so.

First, he talked about closing the list.

What he meant was that instead of adding tasks to your list throughout the day, you should stop doing so and make your list a closed one. And the way you do it is to draw a line under the last task of the list.

When you close the list, you are making an agreement with yourself: You decide not to add any new tasks during the day. This is how your list becomes more manageable and the size is shrinking as the day goes by – not staying the same or increasing.

Second, his advice was to postpone the execution of tasks a bit. What this means is that when someone asks you to do something, you aren’t trying to do it the same day. Instead, you let the person know that you are doing the task tomorrow.

Although this may sound like procrastinating, in reality it’s not.

Advertising

It’s all about respecting your current task list and giving its tasks enough focus and priority. This way you can get the tasks done and you also make sure, that the other person and his/her tasks gets your full attention the next day – when you actually do the task.

Now, there are cases when you have to deal with the task right away, but in majority of cases you should postpone the task – till tomorrow.

The step-by-step plan to make a list that is doable (and kill the baby monster)

Here are the step-by-step actions for eliminating the baby monster until it grows too big.

  1. Plan a list. Make a task list realistic by giving it a little more thought the night before. Instead of stuffing it with dozens of tasks, try to find the most important ones to focus on.
  2. Close it. After creating the list, draw the line under the last task. This marks the list as a closed one. New tasks shouldn’t be added to the list during the day.
  3. Protect the list from distraction. Focus on finishing your planned tasks by the end of the day. When you have closed the list, you can be calm knowing that the number of tasks is decreasing. You also give your full attention for the tasks of the day and nothing else.
  4. Move the unfinished tasks. If you are unable to finish all the tasks in a certain day, move the unfinished ones to the next day. It’s also worth analyzing why you didn’t accomplish the tasks, so that you can avoid a similar thing happening in the future.
  5. No new assignments. It’s important to deal with other people the right way. When someone comes to you and asks you to do something now, let him/her know that you are doing the task – but only tomorrow. This way you are protecting your time and your task list the best way possible.
  6. Deal with the emergencies. Of course, there might be emergencies that have to be taken care of right away. These emergencies are exceptions and you should definitely take care of them right away. Once the emergency is handled, you can return back to the original plan and continue executing the tasks if possible.

It’s very easy to keep adding new tasks to your list during the day.

Unfortunately, even if this may be a very compelling thing to do, it is also making you more overwhelmed.

That’s why it’s important to focus on your daily task list by closing it and postponing any requests by other people till tomorrow.

That way you can keep your list manageable and you can avoid the frustration, when you are not getting all your work done.

Advertising

Over to you: How do you make sure your task list is not growing during the day? Do you try an app like Listible to create any list you want digitally or do you stick with a paper and pen method? Let me know in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: Beautiful blonde girl writing via Shutterstock

More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

How to Create a To-Do List That Super Boosts Your Productivity The Crucial Letter Your SMART Goal Is Missing What Is FOMO (And How to Get Over It and Move on) Do You Do This Common Mistake When You Start Working on Your Tasks? 9 Valuable Lessons Learned After Writing My First Book

Trending in Productivity

1 5 Values of an Effective Leader 2 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine 5 Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next