Taming a Crazy To-do List

No matter how carefully I manage my workload, I end up buried with to-dos every so often. If you’re like me, an overwhelming to-do list could make you freeze up and not get anything done. My solution is time-management heresy!

Crossing a to-do off my list gives me a boost of energy and motivation to get more done! So, I do something quick and easy that I want done, even if its priority couldn’t be any lower. With my energy and motivation restored, I can go back to a more orthodox time management approach. My newest course, Project Tips Weekly, releases one short movie each week, so it’s a great example of this tactic—from my perspective as the author as well as for viewers.

Here’s how to tame an overwhelming to-do list:

1.      Pick a task that won’t take much time (5 to 10 minutes max) and that you want to get done. You know which one it is. Maybe it’s cleaning up the receipts on your desk, mapping out your day, or watching a LinkedIn Learning movie!

That’s one thing less to do. If you keep a list of to-dos, you can mark the task as complete and bask in that feeling of accomplishment. That brings up a question…

2.      Do you have a to-do list?

A heap of crumpled, smudged notes with scribbled to-dos doesn’t count.

If you don’t have a list, take 10 minutes and add everything you can think of to it. Include importance, urgency, and level of effort for each entry if you know what they are. (Stop at 10 minutes. You can add to the list any time later on.)

Writing up a list on paper does commit you to your to-dos, and you get satisfaction from drawing a line through each task you complete. However, you’ll rewrite to-dos onto new sheets as priorities change and new to-dos come up. If you throw past lists away, you lose your work history, too.

A spreadsheet, OneNote table, or some other app can help in a lot of ways. You can sort the entries by importance, urgency, or level of effort. You can mark to-dos as complete and move them to your completed list. If you include the date you complete each to-do, you can motivate yourself when you’re feeling down by looking back at everything you’ve accomplished the past, week, month, or year.

3.      Sort the list by importance, then urgency, then level of effort.

With a sorted to-do list, it’s easy to see your important and urgent to-dos.

In the example below, I have one to-do that’s important, urgent, and doesn’t take a lot of time: prepping movies for my Project Tips Weekly course – which has one short tip come out each week. Depending on the tip, I can get one prepped in an hour or two. That’s definitely the first thing I’m going to tackle after the next step.

4.      With the sorted list in front of you, get your important and non-urgent to-dos on your calendar!

Because they aren’t urgent, they’re easy to forget unless you schedule them. Be realistic. Don’t try to finish them all in the next few days. Space them out so you have time for important and more urgent work.

Last year, I made a list of places I would like to visit on vacation. Some friends and I agreed those were places to go and that’s how it sat for almost a year. Finally, I realized I needed to get at least a few on the schedule, so I typed in 2018, 2019, 2020 into OneNote and then moved my top-priority vacation spots into one of those years. Lo and behold, four of those are now on my calendar!

LinkedIn Learning videos might fall into this category. Suppose you want to learn a topic, whether it’s Microsoft Project, gathering requirements, or fixing your photos with Photoshop. You can schedule 10 or 15 minutes every day or two to watch a few movies on that topic. Before you know it, you’ve finished an entire course!

5.      Now, grab one of your important/urgent to-dos and get to work!

By the end of the day, you may have finished several things on your to-do list, including a couple of important, urgent tasks. Move those to-dos into a Completed list and enjoy another energy boost seeing how much you’ve accomplished.

I’m enjoying working on my Project tips course. Instead of prepping several dozen movies in a short time, I can add individual movies to my to-do list – one each week for the next calendar quarter.

6.      Before you call it a day, take 5 to 10 minutes to plan what you will tackle from your list tomorrow.

It might take a week to get the to-do list under control. However, it takes only a few minutes each day to keep your list under control. For more on time management, check out Chris Croft’s course.

1 reply
  1. Ram
    Ram says:

    Good article. In a nutshell, if the to-do-list is made up initially and then the items are categorized as per 80/20 rule, then its a sure shot way to not just moving the needle but also deriving true happiness in achieving something significant. Its a simple and effective formula that sort of carries a blue print for happiness.


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