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How to Make a List Doable in 6 Steps

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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