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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.

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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.

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 March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

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Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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