By July 7, 2013 Read More →

3 Steps to Crush Your Overwhelming List of Things To Do

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“You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself bigger.” – John Maxwell

It’s easy get overloaded and overwhelmed by a growing list of things to do.  There’s always more things to do than there is time in a day.

Crazy busy seems to be the new normal for many people struggling to stay on top of things in work and life.

If you don’t have an effective tool for dealing with this situation, then what ends up happening is, the harder you work, the more behind you get.  You end up jumping from task to task.  You end up feeling stressed, worrying about whether you’re working on the right things, and wondering what you forgot to do.

To-Do Lists Save You from Yourself

To-Do Lists are a proven practice for dealing with work overload.  Whenever you get overloaded or overwhelmed, a To-Do list can help you crush your overwhelming list of things to do.

Without an effective To-Do List, it’s easy to lose focus and work on things that are less important or don’t even matter.  Without a To-Do List, things buzz around in your head, as you try to remember what you wanted to do, what you forgot, or what’s next.

Without a To-Do List, it’s easy to shuffle ideas around in your head all day, without actually getting things done.  This only adds to your stress and anxiety.

Tame Overwhelm in 5 Minutes or Less

When you use a To-Do List effectively, you’ll be much better organized.  You’ll be able to prioritize more effectively, which is the key to dealing with too much to do, too little time.  You’ll be much more reliable because you’ll actually know and remember what to work on.   When you have a prioritized list of things to do at your fingertips, you’ll reduce your stress, you’ll get on top of things, and most importantly, you’ll feel on top of things.

The whole process below can be done in 5 minutes or less.   With those five minutes, you’ll achieve peace of mind, you’ll be better organized, you’ll prioritize more effectively, you’ll be able to focus, and you’ll be spending your time on the right things, and letting the right things go.

Here are the steps to crushing your overwhelming list of things to do …

Step 1.  Write Down All the Things You Need to Do

In this step, write down all the things you need to do.  Don’t filter it, just write down all the things buzzing around in your head.   If you keep asking yourself, “What else is on your mind?”, or “What else do I need to do today?”, it won’t take long before you start slowing down on thinking of things to do, and you’ll have a pretty good list to work with.

Here is a sample brain dump …

SAMPLE TO-DO LIST 

To Dos
—————-
Work on the drafts for the templates
Follow up with Eric
Read the article on better ways to evaluate customer research Create a first cut of the timeline
Set up meetings with Rich, Laura, and Paul
Get back to Rob
Research the customer pains and needs
Put the plan on paper
Clear my inbox
Clear off my desk
Workout
Finish the slides

 

Step 2.  Bubble Up Three Wins to the Top

In this step, you crush your overwhelming list of things to do.   To do so, identify Three Wins for today.   Simply think of three things that if you achieved them you would consider them wins for today.

This is a powerful step because it helps you focus and prioritize on a short-set of key wins for today.   This will also help you give more meaning to the things you do.  It’s a simple way to, as Stephen Covey would say, begin with the end in mind, simply by thinking of Three Wins that you would like to have under your belt today.

By identifying Three Wins, you also help set yourself up for success for the day.   This is your chance to take the time to call out and carve out Three Wins for today, that are worth spending your time, energy, and focus on.

Here is an example of adding Three Wins to the top of our To-Do List …

 

SAMPLE TO-DO LIST (with Three Wins at the top)

3 Wins—————–

  1. Have a great workout
  2. Slides are ready to share
  3. Project plan is ready to go

To Dos

——————-

Work on the drafts for the templates
Follow up with Eric
Read the article on better ways to evaluate customer research
Create a first cut of the timeline
Set up meetings with Rich, Laura, and Paul
Get back to Rob
Research the customer pains and needs
Put the plan on paper
Clear my inbox
Clear off my desk
Workout
Finish the slides

 

Step 3.  Prioritize the List

In this step, put the To-Dos on your To-Do List in the order that you should do things.  Put more important things at the top.   You know what’s more important.   That’s not the challenge.  The challenge is doing the more important things.  Distractions are everywhere.  It’s easy to start working on easy things, and avoid the tougher things, especially if you don’t have a list to help you stay on track.

Your list helps you rise above the noise.

Here is a better habit to get into:  Put the more important things you know you need to do at the top of your list, and work the top of your list.   Chances are, if your list is truly overwhelming, you won’t make it through everything.   But, with this prioritized list, and your Three Wins listed at the top, what you’ll be doing is getting the more important things done, and you’ll be feeling good about the things you actually do accomplish.   You’ll also be letting go of the lesser things, while trading up for the good stuff.

Here is a sample of a To-Do List where the To-Dos are prioritized and sequenced …

 

SAMPLE TO-DO LIST (Prioritized)

3 Wins—————–

  1. Have a great workout
  2. Slides are ready to share
  3. Project plan is ready to go

To Dos
——————-

Workout
Put the plan on paper
Create a first cut of the timeline
Finish the slides
Follow up with Eric
Set up meetings with Rich, Laura, and Paul
Clear my inbox
Clear off my desk
Work on the drafts for the templates
Get back to Rob
Research the customer pains and needs
Read the article on better ways to evaluate customer research

You can always tell yourself, “But I need get everything done,” but the reality is you only have so much time in the day.   You can beat yourself up over what you don’t get done, and worry about it, or you can worry about spending your time on the right things with the time you’ve got.  In all of my experience, if you master spending your time on the right things, this will always trump worrying about a bunch of lesser important things that will likely fall off your plate.

In fact, they don’t fall off your plate.  You squeeze out the lesser value things by working on the higher value things.  That’s by design.

If you follow these steps, congratulations.   Not only have you tamed your overwhelming list of things to do, but , you are well on your way to producing more meaningful results.   And, the good news is that each new day is a new chance to practice, and  another chances to see what you can knock out of the park.

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Image by Hey Paul Studios.

Posted in: Productivity

6 Comments on "3 Steps to Crush Your Overwhelming List of Things To Do"

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  1. Vidya Sury says:

    This is a post that directly speaks to my soul, JD. My Mom often said that without our lists, we would cease to exist. I especially love the idea of bubbling up three wins!

    Somehow, no matter how much I try, I can’t seem to work with an online list. I know it is convenient with lots of great features, yet I am happiest scribbling in my large spirally bound book.

    I would like you to know that your fabulous posts make a big difference to my day in terms of motivation “to do”.

    :-) Hugs, JD!

    • JD says:

      That is great to hear!

      Lists really do help us sort out our world for the day versus swirl it around in our heads.

      I used to underestimate the power of making lists until I found how making lists made space in my mind to think new thoughts, get more creative, and focus on higher-order things.

      Adding Three Wins to the top really transforms any To-Do list into a strategic plan for the day.

  2. JD, this is a superb walkthrough! What a refreshing approach to your Rule of 3–a tool which I’ve used consistently now for almost four years & one for which I can vouch unequivocally. Very, very nicely done!

    • JD says:

      Thank you, Jimmy.

      I’m a fan of changing lives in little ways that add up. I’ve seen too many people crushed by their day, on a daily basis. This is a simple way to live a little stronger and make each day matter a little more … and that adds up over time.

  3. Veronica says:

    Thank you so much, it is very helpful! I’m searching some valuable solutions concerning time management.

    • JD says:

      Excellent.

      A lot of time management comes down to figuring out what you want to spend more time doing. This helps you squeeze everything else out from there.