I’ll bet you are looking at your to-do list and thinking,” It would be impossible to finish this to-do list.” And in its current state, you are probably right. Wouldn’t you love the feeling of crossing everything off your list? When was the last time that happened?
Most of us never finish and never feel like we’ve done enough at the end of the day. We feel defeated and overwhelmed. But, you can actually get to the point where you get to the end of your to-do list almost every day. We just need to solve some problems that are getting in the way.
Problem #1: Papers, Cleaning, Grooming, and Cooking
We forget we have lives to maintain. The routine things aren’t added to our to-do list, so we think we have time for all our project tasks, errands, and calls. When in reality we don’t have time for them if we do everything we need to do to keep our lives running.
1) Time Yourself
For three days track how long routine things like email, cleaning, and transporting kids each take. Now average out the times for each routine. And finally, add up the total. When I first did this, it was not what I expected. No wonder I never finished my lists. It took hours to complete my routine items.
2) Shave Off Some of That Time
We can usually gain some minutes by having our routines go faster. Try some creative thinking on your routines. What can you do faster/differently? Can you get off some email lists, only check email at certain times of the day, keep lunch supplies together, lay out your clothes the night before, sort papers as you watch TV or get a less time-consuming haircut?
3) Create a Routine Schedule
If you know you have to do it, you might as well write it down and not pretend it doesn’t exist. You just need one piece of paper to type or write it out on, nothing fancy. Some have theirs on a whiteboard.
So from 6:30-7:45 am maybe that is your morning routine time. Write down what you need to do during that time. Then write down what you need to do as you begin work. Plan your time for email, calls, meetings, and paperwork. Write down what you need to do before you stop work. Then the chores you want to do before and after dinner. And finally the bedtime routine.
Here is mine for you to play around with for your own schedule: www.mysimplerlife.com/fallroutine-WAH.doc The one thing I like about the schedule is that it stops perfectionism. If you don’t finish everything in your morning routine in your normal time frame, it doesn’t get done. No sweeping every corner or making sure the house is spotless before starting work.
Problem #2: Adding Too Many Tasks to Your To-Do Daily List
If you never get done with your list, you are adding too many tasks. If you have young kids at home, they take up so much time you have less time to get other things done. I usually suggest two lists. One list has everything you want to get done. You can set it up with categories or not, depending on your personality. The next list is your daily list.
1) Find the Right Number of Tasks
You probably have no idea how many tasks you can get done in a day along with your routine tasks. I certainly didn’t. The easiest way is to track how many other to-dos you get done each day for a week. Then average it out. Maybe Monday you got seven things done, but Friday was only three. If you averaged five tasks a day, then this is how many you put on future to-do lists.
2) Don’t Panic
At this point, many clients will say, “But I have to do more than five things a day. These things have to get done!” Well, the truth is that they haven’t been getting done. Honesty and reality are your friends. By adding more tasks than you usually can do, all you are doing is making yourself feel bad. If you finish the list, you can always check your big list for more things to do.
3) Get Rid of To-Dos
This is usually the point where a client realizes they are trying to cram too much into one day. You have an opportunity to decide what is important to you and your family. Do you need to head that committee? Is having your kids in that many extracurricular activities right for them and the family? Can you teach your children certain chores and even work tasks to help out? Or hire an assistant to do routine work or a teenager to update your website?
Problem #3: Those Are Not Tasks
Many of those things on your list are not tasks; they are projects. Cleaning out the closet? Project. Planning a party. Project. Creating a marketing plan. Project. Often projects hang out on our to-do lists a long time. We never have the time to clean out the whole closet. So that project laughs at us from the list every day.
1) Create a Project List
Write down all the projects you are working on. At the bottom, you can add a list for future projects. With a busy work-at-home schedule it’s best not to be working on more than four projects unrelated to work. If you are losing weight, organizing your bedroom, putting your recipes together and planning the school all-nighter, it’s probably not a good idea to also be trying to train the cat to shake, watch all the movies that got a Best Picture Oscar and figure out a new technology. The future projects list can give you space for those dreams.
2) Breakdown Your Projects
You can use a project program, OneNote, Evernote, a project notebook, or whatever fits your style. Take your projects and break down the next few steps. You don’t have to know the whole plan. They usually don’t turn out exactly as planned anyway.
3) Now You Have Tasks
As you plan your day, check your project list. Sometimes you will automatically know what the next step is and sometimes you will need to check your project plan. Try to include at least one project task to your daily list to keep those projects moving.
Problem #4: Email, Facebook, and TV
We get many interruptions a day. However, for most of us, we interrupt ourselves more than we get interrupted. Have you ever been writing and the next thing you know you are updating Twitter? Or you are in the middle of a project, and you find yourself alphabetizing your books?
1) Take Breaks
If you looked at my schedule, you see I have various places I take breaks. And something that says breaks in my work schedule. I try to break every 45-50 minutes for at least 5 minutes. Our brains don’t concentrate that long at a time. And contrary to what most of us do, taking a break right after you finish something isn’t the best way. If we take a break during our task, we have more energy to pick up where we left off. Putting a post-it note that says what the next thing you were going to do for that task will make sure you don’t lose time re-orienting to your task. Let some of your breaks be away from the computer.
2) Use a Timer
If it is email time and you have planned for 30 minutes, put a timer on so you don’t go over your time. Put on a timer for your breaks, so you remember when to get back to work.
3) Only Check Email and Social Media at Certain Times of the Day
Facebook and Twitter are ideal for break time. It’s difficult to get your tasks done if you keep interrupting yourself.
Get To the End of Your To-Do List:
You can either plan weekly with a quick daily plan or plan daily. I like the evening so that I can get right to the day after my morning routine.
1) Take a look at your calendar for appointments. Sometimes you may have to put fewer tasks on your daily list because of appointments.
2) Look over your project list. Which do you want to concentrate on today? Add the task(s) to your daily list.
3) Get out your big list and scan through to pick out the most important to add to the daily list. Remind yourself to not include more than your average task list amount.
4) Star the most important three tasks on your list.
5) Use your daily routine throughout the day. Take breaks.
6) Do your tasks, starting with the starred items.
7) If you end up with urgent things, move other items off the daily list. If you have urgent things daily, average the amount of time you spend on urgent items every day. Include an urgent time in your schedule, so you have the time. Even if it may be moved around time-wise.
If an important to do comes up that has to be done tomorrow. Feel free to add it directly to tomorrow’s list.
9) If you are still not finishing your to-dos, evaluate. Are you adding too many tasks again? Have you spent too much time drifting and playing around? Do you have too many projects going at once? Have you quit delegating?
All of us deal with time differently, within our personalities and circumstances. Our objective isn’t to change our character, but to create a supportive environment to work.
Beth Dargis works with overwhelmed women to create saner, simpler lives. Simplify your life with the free Declutter Calendar.
P.S. If you are looking for ways to simplify your life, you may want to sign up for my weekly simplicity tips. As a bonus, you’ll receive my Declutter Calendar with one small space to declutter every day.