Raise your hand if you ever felt like you had so many to do lists running at one time, where everything felt like it needed to get done today, and yet you had no time to complete it all. Yup, I’m pretty sure you all just raised your hands. We’ve ALL been there. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the pain. I’ve felt the anxiety rise up from my lower back into my shoulders, and then grow into a full-on headache.
Finally, one day, I decided I needed to hunker down and truly do something about it or I was going to go crazy. Below is my list of 5 strategic ways to conquer your to do list:
#1: Put any and all distractions away for at least an hour.
This is really important. Put your phone away, on silent, for at least one hour to start. While you’re at it, close your email, and don’t look at it. In fact, just put all distractions away for at least an hour. If you can do it for longer, you’re bound to be more productive.
#2: Write out ALL THE THINGS you need to get done.
Don’t try to organize it yet. Just write it all out. Brain dump it. I personally prefer doing this in an actual paper notebook. There’s something about putting pen to paper and going old school that is healing to me. But, you do this however it works best for you. My husband is the type who does better with things digitally, so he’d prefer to type it all into a Word or Google document. Find what works for you.
Also, side note, at the time I first started doing this, I was just brain dumping all the things I had to do at work, but this would be extraordinarily useful if you wanted to brain dump all of your to dos, whether work, home life, family life, etc.
#3: Organize it all.
Start looking for categories in your brain dump that you can lump together. For example, I almost always have a running list of “Things I need to get done this week”. Vague, yes, but it works for me.
I also have a “daily”, “weekly”, “monthly”, “SEO to dos” and so many more. I add to each category whenever I have new ideas pop up. This helps me avoid the dreaded “if I don’t write this idea down right now, I’m going to forget to do it later” feeling I so often get now that I’m full-time working wife, mother of two, and small business owner.
I have tried quite a few task management programs, and I find that Trello boards are the best for me (and they’re free!). I can see all my various categories and lists in one place. I’m a visual person, so this is immensely helpful to me. There is a bit of a learning curve on how to use them effectively for you, but now that I have it figured out, it’s the best one for me. There are lots of other task management programs out there. Find which one works best for you!
#4: Prioritize your lists.
After I categorized every single thing on my list, I prioritized from there. My prioritization may look different from yours, and yours may be different from what your colleague’s will look like. That’s completely fine! You do what works best for you. That’s what matters. It’s not worth doing it in a way that’s not useful for you. So make this yours.
Some days I put a few tasks at the top that I know I can check-off quickly. Doesn’t it just feel so good to check things off of your to do list? Some days, you just need those small victories. Let yourself have them.
#5: Organize your day in chunks.
This is where it gets a little different from some other articles you may have read on how to tackle and conquer your to do list. When I find that I’m just so overwhelmed, I’m stuck. This is truly what pulls me out of it. So what does this look like? You pencil in every minute of your day, and allocate it to getting specific tasks done. Make sure to pencil in your lunch, your bathroom breaks (generally), and any other other breaks you need throughout the day.
From 8:30 AM-4:30 PM while I was at work, I mapped out my entire day for what I was going to be doing. My schedule at the time looked something like this:
8:30-9: read through and respond to emails
9-9:30: pump (I was breastfeeding at the time). If I still had more emails to respond to, I could work on those here, too.
9:30-10:30: work on updating documents for 2020 season
10:30-11:30: complete 2 items off of my “must get done this week” list
11:30-12: contact charters for 2020 season to check-in with them
12-12:30: eat lunch & pump
12:30-1: read through and respond to emails
1:30-2:30: set up one-on-one meetings with office staff & plan each meeting
2:30-3: pump & eat snack
3-4:30: complete 2 more items off of my “must get done this week” list
As you can see, I left the tasks to be completed in each time section somewhat vague, but I had the tasks organized after my brain dump, by priority, so I started at the top of my priority list, and worked my way down.
Stick to the schedule you created. Once the designated time period is up, move on to the next task. Don’t continue working on it or you’ll likely run through your next time period. Then you won’t have the chance to work on that chunk of your list. You can do this all over again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next until you feel more in control of your to do list. It can feel counter intuitive at first, but I promise, it will help you be more productive in each day.
I can’t even tell you how much this helped me tackle my to do list. My lists quickly shrank after I intentionally worked on them in this way. In fact, after doing this specifically for about a week, I was at a point where I had tackled the majority of my big projects, and I was left with a much less heavy to do list. It was amazing. I felt in control of my to do list, instead of my to do list controlling me. Victory!
Now every time I find I’m feeling overwhelmed by how busy I’m getting, which then results in me feeling unproductive, I start this whole process over again, and get myself back to the basics. I quickly find that I get back on track, I can focus better, and I am much more productive.
I realize this tactic may not work for everyone. I’m the kind of person who has to have things, tasks, my exercise time, family time, meal plans, the time I work on my husband’s and my web design business, etc. all compartmentalized into mental, organized boxes. That’s why this helps me. Everything has its place, and everything has its designated time. It’s essentially the Marie Kondo method for my brain! I don’t always need this much structure in my days, but when I need it, I really need it. These tactics have been a life-changer. I hope they will help you not only tackle your to do list, but conquer it!
Speaking of strategic planning, I’m really excited to learn more about how to be more strategic and intentional in my work, home life, and small business at Lancaster Leadership’s Women’s Leadership Summit this May! Check out the topics, speakers and how to register here!