You Will Never Finish Your Damn To-Do List.
My to-do list covers a lot of ground.
Right now, I have at least 16 things on it, and a lot of them are not related. Some are about my kids, some about work. Some are personal grooming activities.
There are times when my list gets so long that all I can focus on is how much I have to do.
And, I’m a perfectionist. So I get this thought in my mind. If I’m good enough at planning, if I plan everything right, I can get everything done today.
There are some days that I can. Those are great days.
But most days, I am left with several things that didn’t get done.
It used to leave me a nervous wreck to think about having things left on my to-do list at the end of the day.
But I set myself up for failure.
I’d set these vague goals — I need to “work on the camp schedule”. Or, “finish that project” today.
I had no real idea what made up “the camp schedule”, or what the steps were to “finish that project.”
Then I’d be so worried that I wouldn’t get to everything, that I would hardly get anything done.
I’d focus too much on the giant, vague list.
Things have changed.
Now, I have a system. One that combats both the volume of activities on my list, and the anxiety that the list creates.
Here it is:
Step One: Write down every specific thing that needs to be done.
Not “work on camp schedule” I write down all the steps. For example:
pick 3 day camps for kids for summer
figure out weeks to put them in camp
sign up for each camp
send medical forms to pediatrician
put pickup and dropoff times and locations in family calendar
When you do this for each activity, its a lot easier to see exactly what needs to be done. And how long a vague task like “the camp schedule” will actually take. These steps become the to-do list.
Step Two: prioritize the list.
Once you break it all down, it becomes easier to see that not everything on the list will be done today. So, you need to prioritize.
The key is to determine how much time you have in a day, then pick a realistic number of activities to fill it. Not all them. The most important ones for today.
I talked about prioritizing a to-do list in a previous story:
Step Three: Accept that you are not going to get to everything on your list today.
Yes, I know that your brain is telling you that this not ideal. Maybe its even saying that its downright wrong.
But if you don’t accept that everything won’t get done today, you’ll end up doing nothing. Because you will spend your whole day managing your anxiety. Instead of executing on your tasks. Your brain will get used up with overwhelm.
This can be the trickiest part of working on a realistic to-do list. We often set unrealistic productivity goals for ourselves. And then beat ourselves up for not achieving those goals. And yet, we can’t give up the dream of the unrealistic goal.
We would rather dream of being the kind of person who can execute an entire to-do list. Instead of the real life person who can only get a few things done.
But once you hit your realistic goals, you get positive feedback. And that will be the first step in breaking the perfectionist cycle.
It can be very uncomfortable to give yourself permission notto do everything. But try it once. See how much you get done. Because in reality, its better to do 5 things than to expect to do 15 and end up doing 2.
Step Four: Schedule Exactly When You will Do It All.
I talk a lot about how exactly to schedule a day in my previous story:
What I will add is this: make sure you schedule in breaks. You are going to take them anyway. You need them. We all do. Instead of losing steam after 30 minutes. And wandering unintentionally toward Instagram, schedule specific breaks. 10 minutes to go outside. 15 minutes to read a book.
Step Five: Execute.
You have developed your plan. You have managed your mindset. Now you know exactly what to do and what is realistic to achieve today.
Go forth and execute. With a clear head and the specific steps to get you there.