Get a Grip on Your To-Do List

How much time are you spending staring at your to-do list, feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of completing a fraction of it, let alone the whole thing? Sometimes our “must do'' list feels bigger than our “can do” list. Before the overwhelm kicks into high gear, put these tips to work for you and get your arms around things.

Built-in Wins

Whether you’re building out your list of short-term and long-term goals or your daily to-do list, put down a few easy things. It may seem silly to put “Morning Coffee” on your daily task list, but do it anyway. For one thing, when the level of chaos in your professional and personal life amps up, having such a given on your list is a necessity lest it get overlooked. More importantly, we need some easy things on our list so we can still feel a few easy wins even on those hard days.

Yes. Small things count. We make the bed every morning in my house. It is 30 seconds of lifting the duvet in the air and having it fall back in place neatly. There is something about marking the beginning of the day that way and the small gesture of leaving an inviting space of a reasonably made bed to welcome you at the end of the day that feels like an accomplishment and sets the tone for doing other small things along the way. Those small tasks add up to big wins over time.

Be Realistic 

When we’re starting to feel overwhelmed, everything can start to feel like a fire to put out quickly. Take a deep breath and look at your perceived to-do list honestly. Are these tasks you really need to do – or at least really need to do today (or this week, if you build your list that way)? Have you set a realistic timeline to complete these tasks? Are there items on here that can be delegated? 

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, our to-do list can become the dumpster we put everything and anything we imagine needing to find space on our plate. In reality, that website overhaul you keep penciling in isn’t even within your current budget. It won’t even get near the starting line for months until funds are freed up and other tasks are completed. Adding components related to it (or the full project!) to your list today or this week is just needlessly piling on. Take it off the front burner and give yourself space to exhale. 

Go Ahead and Delegate

Yes, there are some tasks that simply must be done. That doesn’t mean, however, they must be done by you. Go ahead and delegate where you can. Have a task that doesn’t naturally fit into someone else’s purview? Ask for help. In other words, it may be natural for your team admin to tackle the task of putting together folders of information for your upcoming meeting with a new sales prospect. It may not be natural for your 17 year old to swing by the supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner. Delegate the sales folders to your admin, and ask your 17 year old for help. 

Set a Cut-off

Raise a hand if you add one or two more things to your to-do list every time you cross something off. If you could look around at everyone reading this right now, you’d see a whole lot of hands raised. Let’s agree not to do this to ourselves. Yes, sometimes unexpected tasks come up and demand attention. Some, especially those experiencing stress and overwhelm, can make this an unnecessary habit, however. In truth, you have the power to say ‘not today’ to some of those tasks. 

If you’re mapping out a daily task list, have a general rule of thumb when new tasks can be added to today’s agenda, and when they get bumped to tomorrow’s (or some other day.) Put out the fires; but recognize that every perceived spark is not one that needs to be extinguished by you today.

Be Okay With “No” and “Not Now”

Let’s be clear: you have the right and authority to set reasonable deadlines and expectations. Just because a teammate asks for your help pulling a report, doesn’t mean you need to hit pause on your task list to get their task done right now. Ask when they need the information and tell them when you can fit their request into your task list. It could be later today. It could be tomorrow. It could be by the end of the week. 

Edit Your List

You know that one task that keeps ending up on your list day, after day, after day? You’ve made no progress on it. It just sits there leering at you as it stagnates. Yes. That task. It’s time to take a hard honest look and ask some tough questions like “Is this task actually a priority for me? Does it need to remain on my to-do list?” 

If it’s the one thing that you keep bumping from today’s list to tomorrow, it may be time to just call it quits and remove it altogether. Maybe you hand it off to someone else on your team. Maybe you just forget it altogether. Either way, take the time to honestly evaluate your expectations and remove those things that aren’t important enough to actually get crossed off your list day in and day out.