Tag Archives: to-do lists

3 steps to get important things done

When a task or project languishes on your to-do list for days, weeks, months or even years, you need to decide whether to drop it or get moving on it.  Lack of momentum saps your energy and reduces the likelihood of creating your ideal life.

If continuing the activity or getting it done is a true desire, you can’t rely on willpower (self-discipline) alone. The ability to resist short-term temptations for long term gains is not enough to resolve competing priorities, make high-quality choices, and take ideal action.

Try following these 3 essential steps — which boost willpower but don’t depend too much on it — to get important things done:

1. Limit your to-do list to your highest priorities

Having too many things to do requires you to make too many decisions, which uses up limited resources, such as time, energy and willpower. Roy F. Baumeister, research psychologist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, says limiting decisions and focusing on goals, sequentially, instead of all at once, help you build your willpower instead of deplete it. 

Keep your to-do list short to avoid getting overwhelmed and exhausted. Limit your daily to-dos to the most important action items that you can realistically do in a day. Make space for sufficient sleep, regular breaks, and healthy eating. Reflecting and refueling are just as critical as taking action and moving forward.

The most effective to-do lists tie into your greatest ambition, inner purpose and heartfelt desires. They differentiate between essentials and non-essentials. They don’t revolve around easy tasks that mainly serve to keep you busy or create an illusion of progress. The best to-do lists include specific action steps for moving toward challenging and internally rewarding goals.

Procrastination is not always a bad thing. It works to your benefit when it allows you to concentrate on more meaningful tasks and avoid doing unnecessary tasks or addressing trivial issues.

If you find yourself postponing action on certain to-dos, take time to reflect on whether you really want to get them done. Meditating, journaling, and talking with a trusted confidante are some ways to consciously decide what you deeply want.

Delete from your to-do list any activity, project or experience that is no longer aligned with your highest values and merely takes up mental space. Deliberate selection and reducing your options make it more likely you will focus on what matters.

2. Schedule your highest priorities 

If you truly want to gain an experience, perform an activity, or complete a project that is on your to-do list, the next step is to make time for it through scheduling.

Is there an exotic destination you’ve been wanting to visit? Book the airline ticket so you have a specific date and time you will head there.

Are you interested in learning a particular new skill? Sign up for a regular weekly class that keeps you accountable and on task.

Do you need to get moving on a project? Pick a time slot during the week – whether it’s 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or several hours – to work on it and experiment with it.

In your weekly schedule, you could dedicate a specific day for a specific activity or type of activity. And you could pick a day for not doing a certain thing. For example, on Sundays, I stay away from doing legal work or checking emails from clients and prospects, even when I am tempted to do so as a solo lawyer with a growing firm. This frees up my Sundays for family events, social gatherings and creative projects.

Researchers suggest that willpower (or self-control) is highest in the morning and gets depleted as the day progresses. Although you can recharge by taking a break or switching to another task, your productivity tends to be highest when you tackle the most critical things first. If you choose to do easy things first, set a time limit and move on to the harder stuff sooner than later.

Design a schedule that is compatible with your natural rhythm, preferences and tendencies. Each person is different when it comes to ideal times to get things done. Regardless of whether you are a night owl or morning lark, the setting of a schedule and sticking to it will help you gain traction, especially on tasks that demand mental discipline and creative insights.

Scheduling enables you to take well-chosen actions instead of merely react to whatever is going on around you. Try setting a schedule for something simple and notice the difference. Check emails and social media in the mid-morning, afternoon and at the end of the day, instead of constantly throughout the day. You are bound to get more important things done when you’re not killing time by consuming (usually useless) information.

Once you pick a certain time of the day or a certain day to concentrate on a to-do, you develop a routine that leads to ongoing progress, without depleting your resources.

3. Make your highest priorities into sustainable habits

Scheduling your priorities into your routine allows you to make them into habits that are easier to sustain. It takes a whole lot more willpower to start things you do only sporadically.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains that every habit starts with a neurological loop of three parts: First, there’s the cue or trigger that leads to an automatic response. This includes the time of day, your emotional state, your location, or the people around you. Next is the routine or the behavior itself.  Third is the reward that satisfies a particular craving. The reward is something your brain remembers and likes. You repeat the behavior to keep getting the reward.

Creating good habits or breaking bad habits comes down to your routine. Instead of waiting for inspiration to get things done, set aside a time and reserve a space to do what you most want to get done.

It’s easier to create new behaviors and sustain them for the long term when you work with an existing routine. I used to struggle with making time to play piano or practice a piece I learned in a prior lesson. Then several weeks ago, I noticed I had an ideal time slot on the evenings my husband gets our toddler ready for bedtime. As soon as our dinner ends and my family gives me alone time, I sit down at my piano and play for about 30 minutes. This has not only become a part of my normal routine, but also a cherished evening ritual.

Sometimes, though, you need to shake up  your routine if it’s no longer workable due to changed circumstances. If you used to run in the mornings, but changed jobs and now have a longer commute to work, you could switch to an afternoon run during your lunch break or an evening run after you get home.

* * *

When faced with a project that you want to complete, break it down into small, manageable steps on your daily to-do list. Set aside non-negotiable time to make steady progress with the right amount of effort. Create habits that enable you to get important things done, no matter how bored, overwhelmed or uninspired you might feel.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up when you postpone and procrastinate. Perhaps the task or thing isn’t so important after all. And if is, you can always come back to it, work it into your regular schedule, and transform it into a habit.

CONTACT        SUBSCRIBE  

# # #

Photo by: Gregory

Multitasking: 6 Steps to Help You Quit

When you have numerous things to do, the best way to complete them in less time and with greater ease is to single-task. Focusing on one task at a time and diving deeply into each create better outcomes.chess

But competing demands, endless crises, constant interruptions, and ongoing distractions can push you into multitasking (i.e. attending to two or more tasks simultaneously).

Like any ingrained habit, multitasking can be hard to break.

Here are 6 steps to help you quit:

Step #1 – Accept your limits and the limits of multitasking.

You are a limited resource. Your energy and attention-span are limited. Your time is limited to 24 hours in a day. Multitasking has its limits, too.

The human brain allows you to juggle only simple, routine tasks that require little attention or use different channels of mental processing. So you might be able to listen to voicemail while you’re cleaning your desk, but not while you’re responding to email.

Multitasking gives the illusion that you’re attending to several active tasks at once. But the most you can really do is switch quickly from one task to the next (switch-tasking). Or perform a mindless and mundane task in the background while you attend to another (background tasking).

Multitasking doesn’t work for projects that demand high-quality attention, active engagement, complex thought, and creative decision-making.

Once you accept your limits and the drawbacks of multitasking, you will be more inclined to focus on one thing at a time.

Step #2 – Make deliberate choices about your priorities.

All things seem urgent and important when you fail to prioritize. External busyness involves having too much on your agenda. Internal busyness comes from worry and anxiety over unfinished tasks. Instead of trying to get it all done, focus on getting the right things done.

Keep a to-do list that is short, simple and specific. Pick the top three most important tasks that you want to or must complete in the day. Include one meaningful, creative task that will help you reach a long-term goal or make progress on a huge project.

Create a not-to-do list as well. Say no to meaningless tasks that you can avoid, delay or delegate. Shed the things that don’t serve you well and clash with your real to-dos. Don’t agree to every meeting request. Don’t check your email every five minutes. Don’t surf the Web first thing at work.

Step #3 – Block out time to work on your top priorities.

Do your most important tasks or your meaningful, creative tasks first, before the distractions and interruptions pile up. Or schedule appropriate time blocks such as 15, 30, 60 or 90 minutes, when your energy is at its peak, to do them. Designating specific times to focus on your highest priorities will help you screen out your lowest priorities.

Include buffers in your schedule for taking breaks, as well as for accommodating urgent requests or performing administrative duties. When the time block for your top priorities expires (or your energy drops and attention wanes), you can use the white space on your calendar to unwind, perform reactionary work or do routine tasks.

Step #4 – Respond skillfully to urgent requests.  

Reacting quickly to whatever arises at work can provide instant gratification. It feels good to avert a crisis, rescue others, and save the day. But constant firefighting carries long-term costs and consequences. It leaves you with less time to chip away at your important, high-value projects.

When an unexpected, last-minute request comes in, pause and take a breath. Ask yourself whether it’s truly an emergency that you must deal with, right then and there. If it is, get help or describe what else is on your plate. If it’s not, explain why you’re not the best person to handle it or negotiate the due date.

Remind your boss and supervisors about deadlines for other projects and how much time you need to get them done right. Have them make the tough choices and reprioritize for you if you lack the autonomy to do so.

Respond promptly to clients’ urgent requests, but don’t assume you must take immediate action. Describe the next steps and the proposed timeline for delivering the product or service that meets their needs. Demanding clients might just want to blow off steam or explore how much they can push you around. If they truly expect you to drop everything else to satisfy their demands in every situation, consider dropping them.

Step #5 – Set boundaries and push back on interruptions.

Your boss, supervisors, clients and colleagues have their own priorities and agendas, which often conflict with your own. Setting clear expectations and educating others about your work habits and responsibilities will help you minimize interruptions.

Establish boundaries and honor them to ensure that others respect your time. If you need to focus on completing a certain task, close your office door, tell your assistant to hold non-urgent calls, and send an email to key colleagues asking them to connect only on matters that can’t wait.

Push back on interruptions, particularly when you’re working on a major project or you’re up against a deadline. If a colleague stops by your office when you don’t have time to talk, have her send a meeting request or check back with you tomorrow.

Step #6 – Eliminate distractions.  

Emails, IMs, text messages, social media, telephone calls, wi-fi and the like create information overload that can easily distract you from your true priorities. While technology is omnipresent and hard to avoid, unplugging from it at designated times is within reach.

When you need to focus on an important project, silence your cell phone ringer, turn off your email notification, and unplug from the Internet. Respond to telephone messages and emails in batches, once every hour or so. You don’t need to reply to every single telephone call or email as it comes in. Log on to the Internet during a set period, instead of constantly surfing it throughout the day.

Clutter on your desk and in your workspace is also distracting. Keeping piles of files in your field of vision will trigger your multitasking habit. You will spend more time searching for documents, have more trouble focusing, and create stress looking at all the projects and tasks you have yet to do.

Strive to keep your desk clear, except for the one project or task you’re working on in that moment. Maintain a system that allows you to purge, archive and store your files in an organized way, rather than have them grow into a cluttered mess.

* * *

By implementing these 6 steps, you can begin to kick the habit of multitasking and move toward single-tasking. You can start with step #1 or any step that is most practical for you.  They will help you become a focused, single-tasker who gets the right things done in less time and with greater ease.

CONTACT      SUBSCRIBE 

# # #

Photo by: alvarogd

Why Use a To-Do List?

todoWith the New Year underway, many of you are relying on your to-do lists to help you prioritize daily activities and reach long-term goals.

The rest of you might have sworn them off as a waste of time.

To-do lists carry disadvantages and pain points. They can set you up for frustration, induce guilt, discourage openness to unexpected opportunities, and take the fun out of important and otherwise enjoyable tasks. They might contain the wrong priorities – sidetracking you from real progress and accomplishment. When created thoughtlessly, they are hard to execute. When left unchecked, they just keep growing but never shorten or stabilize.

Moreover, the to-do list is just one tool among the many. You could use a calendar to get organized, manage tasks, and keep you on track. You could use a vision board or a life map to stay motivated and focused on long-term goals.

But before you burn your to-do list or decide that it’s not for you, first consider its core purpose, main features and unique benefits.

Purpose and Features

The to-do list is a simple list of prioritized tasks that you have to or want to perform, usually to meet certain goals and deadlines. It is best prepared daily, with the most important tasks or high-impact tasks at the top.

The list ought to be short because the hours in your day are finite. Once you begin your day, aim to cut the list and not expand it. If you end up adding items during the day, make sure they are important and urgent. And to make room for the new item, remove your least critical, pre-existing item from the list and do it tomorrow.

There’s no magic number of items to have on your list. But the more complicated and time-consuming the tasks, the shorter your list should be. Limit the list to one or two major activities that will get you closer to your big goals; the rest is gravy.

The to-do list is not the same as your someday/maybe list or your long-term projects list. It should contain actionable, specific tasks that you can reasonably complete on a given day. Projects like “build a website” do not belong. The list is for smaller, achievable tasks, such as “call web designer about logo.”

The list is also not a place to itemize your routines so you can give yourself a false sense of accomplishment. Do you really need to have tasks like “shower and shave” and “buy groceries” on the list?

Appointments, meetings, events, deadlines and time-sensitive errands go in your calendar, not on your to-do list.

Benefits

To-do lists can help you in the following ways:

1. Increase your motivation

When you have long-term goals, you can use the list to break them down into actionable and achievable short-term steps. As you complete each step, you gain the momentum and confidence you need to finish the big project.

2. Get organized

Without a to-do list, you might find yourself winging it most of the time with no clear purpose. You spend your day in reactive mode, putting out fake fires and squandering your time on trivial matters.

Creating a to-do list, on the other hand, encourages you to reflect on your priorities, record due dates, strategize your action steps, and gather resources you need to complete the task.

3. Boost productivity

The list helps you stay focused on your highest priorities. You can use it to channel your attention on the present activity or task, instead of worrying about what you need to do next or what you might have forgotten. Fewer mental distractions will help you achieve flow, bolster creativity, and enhance output.

4. Remember important things you might forget

Some say you should be able to remember everything you have to do. They say if something is really important, it will keep coming back until you do it. But faced with limited short-term memory, busy lives, multiple distractions, and pure inattention, we often need external reminders to perform important tasks. The to-do list serves as a useful memory aid.

5. Reduce stress

The list can be a stress buster because it allows you to shed stuff from your mind. At the end of the day, you can put your unresolved issues on a to-do list for the next day (or perhaps a someday/maybe list). Chances are you will sleep better when you’re not obsessing over tasks possibly slipping through the cracks.

* * *

Now that you know the advantages of to-do lists, you still need to create one that works. This means the list is relatively easy to execute and actually helps you get the right things done. The next blog post will provide tips on how to do just that.

CONTACT          SUBSCRIBE 

# # #

Photo by: Courtney Dirks