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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

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Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

7 Techniques to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions

7 Techniques to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions

The world has become a very distracting place, you don’t need me to tell you that. Where once we could walk out of our house or office and disappear into our own world with our own thoughts, we are now connected 24 hours a day to a network that’s sole purpose is to make us available to anyone and everyone at any time they choose to disturb us.

Of course, it is very easy to sit here and say all you have to do is turn off your electronic devices and just allow yourself several hours of quiet solitude; but the reality is far harder than that. There is an expectation that we are available for anyone whenever they want us.

However, if you do want to elevate yourself and perform at your best every day, to produce work of a higher quality than anyone expects and to regain control over what you do and when you will need to regain some control over your time, so you can focus on producing work that matters to you…

The good news: You do not have to become a recluse. All you need are a few simple strategies that will allow you enough flexibility in your day to stay focused to do the work that matters and still allow you to deal with other people’s crises and dramas.

Here are 7 ways you can stay focused and be less distracted.

1. Find out When You Are at Your Most Focused

According to research, brilliantly documented by Daniel Pink in his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, our brains have a limited capacity to stay focused each day.[1]

From the moment we wake up to the time we turn in for the day, we are using up our brain’s limited energy resources and, depending on the time of day, we will be moving between strong concentration and low concentration.

This means that for most people, their optimum time for sustained concentration and focus will be soon after they wake up. For others, it could be later in the evening—a kind of second wind—but that is rare.

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Once you understand this, you can take time to learn when you are at your best and to protect that time on your calendar as much as possible. If you can, block it off and use that time for the work you need to do that requires the most concentration each day.

2. Get Comfortable Using ‘Do Not Disturb’ Mode

We have the ability to switch our electronic devices to do not disturb mode. Where all notifications are off and your phone or computer will not alert you to a new email or message.

Now after testing this function for a number of years, I can happily report that it does work.

When I sat down to write this article, I put all my electronic devices to do not disturb, closed down my email and began writing. I am safe in the knowledge that until this article is written, and I turn do not disturb off, there will be no interruptions or distractions.

Of course, it is not really about whether do not disturb works or not, it is whether you are willing to turn it on or not.

Most people believe they have to be constantly available for their boss or customers. This is not true at all. What has happened is because of your always available status, you have conditioned these people to turn to you first whenever they have a problem.

You are not actually helping them at all. You are preventing them from having to think for themselves and develop the skill of problem-solving. By not being so readily available, you help them a lot more.

What it comes down to is your boss and customers are going to be far more positive with you, if you deliver your work to the highest quality and on time than you being available 24/7. Trust me on that. I also tested that one.

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3. Schedule Focus Time Every Day

This technique is a lot easier than you may think.

First, you figure out when you are least likely to be disturbed. For me, that is between 6 and 9 am. for a lot of my clients, they find the first 90 minutes in the morning at their workplace is when they are not likely to be disturbed. This is important because you want to be building consistency.

Most people start their day by checking their email and other messages. While they are doing that, they are not going to be bothering you. Now there is no rule about when you should be checking your email. The chances are email is not going to be where you want to spend your most focused time, so you can decide to check your email at say 10:30 am.

Dedicate 30 minutes from 10:30 am to 11:00 am for email processing and use the first 90 minutes of your day for doing your most important work. You will surprise yourself by how much work you get done in that ninety minutes.

4. Plan Your Day the Night Before

One of the inevitabilities of life is there is always a plan for the day. The choice is whether the plan you have is a plan of your own making or not. If you don’t have a plan, then the day will take control of you. Other people’s priorities, urgencies and dramas will fill your day. As the late Jim Rohn said:

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”

If you take control and make it a habit to plan out what you want to accomplish the next day before you go to bed, you will find yourself staying more focused on your work and be less likely disturbed.

Now when I say plan your day the night before, I do not mean you need to spend an hour or so planning and mapping out every minute of the day. Planning your day should only take you around 10 to 15 minutes and you only need to decide what 10 things you want to complete — 2 “must do” objective tasks and 8 “would like to do” tasks. What I call the 2+8 Prioritisation Technique:

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Do not be tempted to go beyond 10 tasks for the day. When you do that, you do not have enough flexibility in your day to handle crises and other unknown issues that will pop up throughout the day.

When you do not build in flexibility, you will soon stop planning your day. Only plan tasks that will have the biggest positive impact on your work and projects.

5. Learn to Say “No”

I am sure you’ve been told this before. We are wired to please and this results in us wanting to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. The problem is we cannot do everything and every time you say “yes” to one opportunity, you are saying “no” to another opportunity. You cannot be in two places at the same time.

Jay Shetty shared an inspiring video on JOMO “Joy Of Missing Out”. Here’s the video:

Rather than allowing ourselves to be succumbed by FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out), we should replace that ‘fear’ with the “joy” of missing out. Because of our need to please, we say yes to things we really don’t want to do; yet when we do that, we miss out on doing things that bring us joy—creating something special, spending time educating ourselves and just having some quiet alone time with ourselves.

Learn to say “no” every time you get a notification to your phone. Ignore it. Learn to say “no” to your colleagues when they want to gossip. Learn to say “no” to volunteering when the thing you are being asked to volunteer for does not excite you. Just learn to say “no”.

By saying “no” to opportunities, distractions and interruptions, you are saying yes to better and more meaningful things. Things you do want to focus your attention on.

6. Create a Distraction-Free Environment for Your Focused Time

This has been possibly the most powerful tip I learned when it comes to focusing on what is important. Have a place where you do only focused, high-concentration work.

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Now this place needs to be clean and only have the tools you need to do your work. If it is writing a report or preparing a presentation, then it needs a table and a computer, nothing more. Files, paper and other detritus that accumulates on and around people’s desks need to go. A clean, cool and well-lit environment is going to do a lot more for your focus and concentration than anything else.

The dining table in our home is where I go for undisturbed, focussed work. I take my laptop or iPad, and only have my writing app open. Everything is closed down and the computer is in “do not disturb” mode. There is nothing else on the dining table just my computer and my water tumbler.

Because that is my designated focus area, I only go there to work when I have something that needs total focus and concentration. I am there right now!

7. Be Intentional

The reality is, if you absolutely need to get something done then you need to be intentional. You have to have the intention of sitting down, focusing and doing the work.

There’s no magic tricks or apps that will miraculously do all your work for you. You need to intentionally set aside time for undisturbed focus work and do it. Without that intention, you can read as many of these articles as you like and you still will not get the work done.

It is only when you intentionally set yourself up to do the work, turn off all notifications and do whatever it takes to avoid distractions will the work get done.

The Bottom Line

The strategies and tips I shared in this post will go a long way to helping you become better at focusing on the important things in your life. No matter what they are, you are in control of your time and what you do with it and where you spend it, never give that control away to anyone else.

Protect it and it will be your servant. Give that control away and it will become your master and that is not a good place to be.

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Featured photo credit: Manny Pantoja via unsplash.com

Reference

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